Since LOSAP started here in NY effective 1/1/1990, technology has improved and increased in usage. Manual sign-in sheets have been replaced with key-fobs and fingerprint readers. Pagers have been replaced with apps such as IamResponding. Online training classes are becoming the norm rather than the exception.
With any system or process, it is important to have proper controls to discourage abuse and/or fraud. As firefighters became able to electronically register their attendance at an event, controls had to be developed to ensure the data was not manipulated after the event.
One event that has largely been untouched by technology is a fire department meeting. Generally, fire department meetings have remained a manual process - you must physically show up to a specific location to attend the meeting. An old technology - conference calls - were sometimes utilized, but large meeting halls, and poor equipment made it hard for the person on the phone to be viable participant in the meeting, making it impractical. Software like Skype and Apple's Facetime significantly advanced the idea of virtual or online meetings, but it wasn't until more recently that Skype turned from a one-on-one conference app to a business-ready app able to facilitate meetings with 250 individual attendees. New software like Zoom has made multiple-participant video meetings affordable (free in most cases) and very easy.
With the restrictions we are all now under as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, fire departments have to cancel the traditional meeting. Many are now turning to Skype and Zoom for meetings. So it is natural that we have received questions about if a virtual meeting using Zoom or Skype should be eligible for points.
We must first keep in mind that the LOSAP statute defines a meeting to be a meeting of the fire department/company membership. So this is the context in which we will be operating - does a regular monthly membership meeting held through Zoom or Skype count for a point just like a traditional meeting?
In my view, there is no reason why it can't count for a point. The important thing is again, controls.
I have more experience with Zoom, but assume Skype has similar capabilities. The organizer of the Zoom meeting can record the meeting, and this recording is an essential control for documenting participation. A procedure should be set about how to document who attended the meeting - perhaps an email the same evening as the meeting to the person tasked with tracking the points, with the list of attendees. That list could be verified later with the recording.
Another recommended control would be to to, at least initially, limit points for virtual meetings held only on the night of the regularly-scheduled meeting. Given the ease of coordinating and attending a virtual meeting, there could be temptation to have them more frequently in order to boost points. We assume all fire department meetings, whether held in-person or virtually, should still follow the notification requirements in the by-laws, which could prevent "pop-up" virtual fire department meetings. But a LOSAP sponsor may want to consider putting a control in place, at least initially, to prevent the possibility of abuse.
As virtual meetings become more commonplace, it will become more natural and some of the concerns for abuse will likely be ironed out and eliminated. But in general, it makes sense to encourage the use of technology for meetings, especially when the participating virtually does not reduce the effectiveness of the participation of the firefighters. It just requires proper controls.
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