Getting My Ducks In a Row: The Importance of Professional Connections

Last week, my teenage son came to me and said, “Yo, Mom. Can we get some baby ducks?” No joke. He really said “Yo, Mom.” (Cue the eye roll.) And he really asked for ducks. (Cue the eyebrow lift.) I quickly brushed off this request until later that evening during what has been coined as Social Distancing Cocktail Hour. This is exactly what you are picturing: a fireside gathering of 4 former PTO moms from the neighborhood sitting at least 6 feet away from each other while holding tumblers filled with frosty adult beverages. Towards the end of the evening, I mentioned Jonnie's request and, for some reason, the idea of having ducks in the hood was highly appealing to everyone in attendance.

Fast forward a few days. I have ducklings. Two of them. They are super cute and are named Bandit and Rona. Both of my teenagers were over the moon with their arrival and have been helpful with duck care and cleaning.

Here's the rub: This may have been a bit impulsive. I really don't know anything about raising ducklings.

SO MANY QUESTIONS! Ducks love to swim! Are they too young to swim? If we let them swim, how warm should the water be? Is it OK to give them bananas? What is grit?? Do I need that? What about niacin?? I hear ducklings need more niacin but do they get enough niacin in their duckling food?? What is the right temperature for the brooder? Will they know to move if they get too hot? How long do they need to live inside? Can you potty train a duck? Who decided it was a good idea to get ducklings in the middle of a paper towel shortage?

It doesn't escape me that the mind-spinning questions, the uncertainty, the weight of responsibility for the safety of these creatures, and even the nights of interrupted sleep serve as a fuzzy yellow metaphor for my feelings during the COVID-19 crisis.

During these unprecedented times, I know more than one prevention professional who feels like a duck out of water in the absence of opportunities for face to face engagement with residents, students, and business owners. Personally, I have learned that when I start to feel overwhelmed, my best course of actions is to take a deep breath and calm the duck down. Once my spirit is soothed, I'm ready to come up with a plan – and usually, that plan includes one key concept: Connections.

First responders across the world are dealing with unique challenges and faced with tough decisions fueled by equal parts data, gut, and grit. Whether a chief officer, line firefighter, or CRR specialist, connecting with others working in similar circumstances provides a critical boost in both professional success and emotional wellness. Luckily, a focus on virtual meetings has provided opportunities to connect with others in the same boat.

One great example of a grassroots effort with virtual networking comes from the Fire Life Safety Educators & Coordinators Facebook group. This group originated from some boots-on-the ground CRR thought leaders and has grown to almost 500 members. When members started posting about the challenges of working during the COVID-19 response, CRR Captain Michael Sedlacek of the Madison Fire Rescue in Alabama grabbed the bull by the horns and set up some Zoom sessions for group meetings. He shared, “I really needed some motivation to keep pushing. I knew that if I was struggling, so was everyone else. This group is helping me stay energized and find new ways to renew my personal commitment to my community to educate and meet their needs.”

While many participants in the Zoom sessions logged on hoping to snag new creative and innovative outreach strategies during this crisis (and certainly found what they were looking for!) the meetings served a dual purpose. Sylvia Rodriguez Peace, Fire Life Safety Education Coordinator from Greenville Fire-Rescue in Texas was not alone in her account, “Taking part in the Zoom meeting gave me a sense of normalcy by visiting with my peers who I draw energy from under normal circumstances. It was like sitting at Ott's and networking. It was a very positive boost to my mental health!”

So how exactly do you get your ducks in a row so you can benefit from professional connections? You can do it in three simple steps:

  • Find your peeps: Take advantage of formal and informal social media networking groups. Actively engage in the online chats. Plan some time to meet up virtually and pose a few key questions to discuss. Pay attention to strategies others are using in case something fits the bill as a solution for one of your struggles.
  • Take a quack at it: Borrow an idea, tweak it to fit your needs, and see how it goes. Don't be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. This might even be the perfect time to tackle that Community Risk Assessment you've always wanted to complete.
  • Sing like a bird: Share your successes! Use social media to let your community know about the work you are doing to add to the safety scene. Follow your peers' accounts and help each other out with some retweets and shares. Be sure to return to your networking groups and let them steal your new ideas.

Remember – Birds of a feather flock together. Find the people who are struggling with the same challenges as you, lean on each other for energy and solutions, then make the magic happen. I know my own stress levels would be much higher if not for my fellow duck moms AND the colleagues in my safety circle! As Lt. Katie Harrington from Worcester Fire Department reminds us, “Our motivation and determination for outcomes are all the same. We share the same focus on reducing risks in our own communities. Together we are strong!” This networking and support can keep you from going absolutely quackers during this chaotic time.

The NFPA CRR team would love to hear from you. If you have additional ideas about how to keep your CRR initiatives moving forward during these uncertain times, reach out to Find our past blogs about working your CRR game during COVID-19 at NFPA has also been generating a great deal of relevant resources as we deal with the coronavirus, in support of you and your work. How are we doing? How else can we help? Take our short survey and tell us what you think.

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Karen Berard-Reed
Senior Strategist, Community Risk Reduction Lead

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