Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Between Alarms: April 2015

Arjuna George   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

You’re registered and ready to go to your first firefighter conference – maybe FDIC in Indianapolis this month, one of the training sessions profiled on pages 16 to 19, or your first provincial conference for fire officers. How do you get the most out of three or four days of classroom or hands-on training, enjoy the social opportunities (without overdoing it!) and manage to remember what you’ve learned?

Do a quick size-up of tradeshow booths and take photos on your smartphone to help you remember which products you want to re-visit. You’re registered and ready to go to your first firefighter conference. Wondering what's next? Arjuna George shares tips on making the most out of the training experience.

I have had the honour to attend fire and emergency conferences for more than a decade provincially, nationally and internationally. The knowledge I have gained and the professional networking has been invaluable.  

I have seen a huge positive shift in attitude toward trade shows and conferences. Fire-service members who are able and willing to learn and take the conference seriously get the most out of the experience. Sure, there are social aspects to all these events, but the time and money that are spent on conferences are of great value to you and your department; these are learning opportunities, not just paid getaways. It is important that you maximize your return on investment and be fiscally responsible to your community.

There are a number of things you should consider before attending any conference.  

Register early. Some conferences provide early-bird deals through which you – or your department – can save money, or to ensure you get into a popular speaker’s session.  If possible, pre-register for classes or sessions.


Research the conference and download or print the available conference info, such as dates, times, locations, and the conference app. It is also important to monitor the conference’s social media platforms for news and updates. A QR scanner, a cloud service such as Dropbox or Evernote, and your favourite social media apps come in handy.

Most conference organizers have embraced social media as a medium through which to deliver important information about speakers, events, and photos to amp up the excitement. Familiarize yourself with the event’s social media pages or profiles, and connect with delegates before the real networking happens. Getting to know the speakers and delegates will help you feel better connected during the conference. Learn the conference #hashtag.

Store all your important documents – such as transportation and hotel confirmations, conference registration and your itinerary – in a program such as Evernote.

If you are flying, packing can be tricky. Quite often conference delegates require dress tunics, business attire and casual clothing. If you need bunker gear for hands-on training courses, be prepared to pay airline fees for an extra bag. Pack as lightly as possible and reduce the amount you carry on so your security process is hassle free. When you arrive at the hotel, have your tunic sent to be dry cleaned so it is fresh and wrinkle free.

When you arrive at the conference, jump right in! If there is a trade show, I do a quick size-up and briefly visit each booth, making notes about what I want to look into more deeply.  This is where your smartphone comes in handy. Take photos of the booths you want to revisit – snap a shot of the equipment and, if available, the booth number (or aisle number at larger shows). Vendors at trade shows can provide expert knowledge about the equipment you use or are considering buying. Trade shows also showcase new products and the latest technology that make our jobs safer and easier. Visit each booth – you never know what nugget you may discover that can help your department.

Ramp up your social media presence and begin posting photos, videos, and tweets. Live tweeting is a great way to document the conference for personal use later, and to help those who are not present to experience the conference. Don’t forget to add the conference #hashtag and photos to your tweets. It’s a well-known fact that tweets with photos receive 150 per cent more retweets.

When the conference opens, be a sponge! Don’t miss a learning opportunity. Be social, and not just online; talk to fellow firefighters from around the world – networking breaks and after-hours social events are when some of the best learning occurs. Collect business cards, email addresses and Twitter handles.

Take notes – lots and lots of notes – either on paper or digitally. With a tablet or phone (if you’re a good typist!) you can record audio, type your notes and add photos into your musings and save them for reference later.  

When the conference ends, follow up with those you met and with whom you have shared interests. Use your notes and photos to help you dig more deeply into the subjects that really interest you.  

Conferences provide top-notch education that we must take seriously. We owe it to our departments, our communities and ourselves.

Arjuna George is the deputy fire chief of operations on Salt Spring Island, B.C., and has served on the department since 1997.   @AJGeorgefire

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