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Time-traveling to remember your pre-COVID-19 priorities

Don’t let the current crisis destroy your previously identified individual goals and departmental priorities


What were you thinking about as the new year was about to begin? What priorities had your department established for the new year? What goals did you set, both personally and professionally?

As we near the end of the year, it’s good to travel back in time, specifically to December 2019.

It was a time when few had heard of the coronavirus and, more specifically, COVID-19. Even fewer could imagine the chaos and destruction that virus would wreak on the world in general, and the emergency services specifically.

What were you thinking about as the new year was about to begin? What priorities had your department established for the new year? What goals did you set, both personally and professionally?

It may be hard to remember what seemed most important back then in light of all that has happened since. But just because a crisis has necessarily diverted attention and resources in the short term does not mean that those goals and priorities were not important. It may not be possible to fulfill them in the way you expected, at least for now, but they should not be forgotten either.

departmental goals still matter

What were your departmental goals for 2020? Perhaps you were looking at new training or community outreach initiatives, upgrades to equipment, hiring new people, station remodels. Those things might seem impossible now, with all your time, attention and money going to only one thing.

But 12 months ago, those goals were priorities for a reason. And even if you cannot fulfill them as originally planned, either in content or timing, consider how you might preserve the intention of those initiatives in different ways.

Let’s consider some examples:

Community outreach: Perhaps one departmental goal for the new year was to increase community outreach and involvement through hands-on public education programs. Great idea, but not so practical right now. Is there a way to achieve the same goal in a different way, perhaps by developing online outreach or interactive programs that involve department members through videos? Focus on the intention rather than the means you had expected to use to reach it.

Station upgrades: Were you planning to do major station upgrades this year but now find that budget dollars are tight? What kind of station modifications could still be made within new constraints that will improve quality of station life as well as response capability? Could planned modifications be made incrementally rather than all at once? Try to break down planned work into components and then assess each specific task for cost/benefit. Maybe the kitchen won’t get remodeled, but replacing the stove and refrigerator might make a real difference.

[Resource: How to build a fire station (downloadable eBook)]

Personnel training: Maybe you had some focused training planned due to identified problems with bullying or harassment on the department. There might not be time or money to do the training you had planned right now, but remember that COVID-19 did not make other problems miraculously go away. If anything, operating emergency services during a pandemic can inflame other unresolved conflicts or issues. Department leaders must be clear that the commitment to mitigating and preventing inappropriate behavior remains strong and that planned interventions will not simply be forgotten due to the immediate crisis.

[Read next: How firefighters can continue to train in a time of social distancing]

Personal and professional goals

Don’t overlook personal and professional goals. What were your New Year’s Resolutions in December? Were you thinking about testing for promotion, getting some kind of specialized certification, going back to school to finish your degree? Such ambitions may seem impossible now, when each day may be a struggle and exhaustion is the default mode, but don’t give up just because conditions have changed.

A conference you had hoped to attend may have been canceled this year. Are there other ways to fulfill the networking and educational goals you had for that event? Online sources are an obvious alternative, but don’t overlook other opportunities as restrictions begin to loosen up. It may not be possible to attend a conference among thousands of others, but it might be possible to organize a training session among 10 firefighters in your area. Consider virtual interest groups with regular video check-ins and find ways to meet in person as is possible.

Keep the intention alive

The most important thing: Don’t abandon priorities just because their achievement might be delayed or altered. Simply saying “We can’t afford that” or “We don’t have time for that” dismisses the importance of the goal. Instead, try saying, “We can’t afford to do what we had originally planned right now. What are other ways we could address that same priority? How can we keep this intention alive in the short term while we continue to prioritize that goal in the longer term?”

Involve all members of the department in establishing priorities as well as devising creative ways to achieve them, even against odds.

Linda Willing is a retired career fire officer and currently works with emergency services agencies and other organizations on issues of leadership development, decision making, and diversity management through her company, RealWorld Training and Consulting. She is also an adjunct instructor and curriculum advisor with the National Fire Academy. Linda is the author of On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories. She has a bachelor’s degree in American studies, a master’s degree in organization development and is a certified mediator. Linda is a member of the FireRescue1/Fire Chief Editorial Advisory Board. To contact Linda, e-mail