Mentoring, for a better future…

Webster’s dictionary tells us that a mentor is, ‘an experienced and trusted adviser.’ Mindtools.com describes mentoring as, “ an essential leadership skill. In addition to managing and motivating people, it’s important that you help others learn, grow, and become more effective in their jobs.” mentor1
So the questions are, do you have a mentor and are you being a mentor? Neither of those definitions describe a rank, title, or a position. Your mentor may be one of your peers or he or she may be at the top of your organization. Often mentors are experienced members of the organization, or a figure in your field, that you use as a reference point for how to act or perform. A mentor’s accomplishments may also serve as your personal goals or as examples of courses of action that worked or didn’t work.
Do not use merely rank or position when considering a mentor. Each of us know someone in the fire service who stepped on others or used others to achieve their current position. Their actions may serve as a warning or learning experience for you; but eventually those actions have a way or creeping up on them.

Seasoned firefighter teaching a young fireman ©Larry Shapiro

Seasoned firefighter teaching a young fireman ©Larry Shapiro

So what should be look for in a mentor? I would go back to Webster and start there. A mentor should be experienced. Now again you may, and should, have several mentors. Your ‘fire ground mentor’ should be a firefighter or officer who is well versed and extremely proficient in fire ground operations, initial size-up and prioritizing problems, and a skilled problem solver. A fire ground mentor is able to control their emotions, communicate clearly, make decisions, and take action.
You may also need a ‘personal mentor’; someone who has solid skills as a manager or supervisor. A mentor who again communicates well, is a good listener, treats people with respect, and considers the human element in non-emergency situations. Look for the mentor who can deliver tough critiques when needed, praises others for going above and beyond, promotes brotherhood, and treats people right.

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Everyone needs a confidant. A confidant is often outside your organization but they do not have to be. A confidant is someone you can ‘unload on’, a listening ear, someone to bounce thoughts and ideas off without holding back. A mentor can be a confidant depending on your situation. Sometimes it helps if your confidant has similar knowledge of your field but it is not required. I have had great conversations with school administrators, police commanders, or even church leaders; each may help you see your problem from another view. Their input or directions are another form of mentoring.

 

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Now, who are you mentoring? You may be actively mentoring someone, by assignment or through a Field Training Officer type of program, or passively mentoring someone because they are watching and leaning from you. Once you have mastered your job assignments, be it as a ‘nozzle-man’, a lead paramedic, an apparatus operator, etc.; you should be mentoring someone. You do not have to state it out loud, make some grand proclamation, or even involve supervisors. It is simple, pass on what you know. There is certainly a time and place to do this, not necessarily the fire ground, not necessarily in front of others, and certainly not to ‘call them out’. But pass on to them your experiences in doing what they trying to perform.

I love to share with others dumb things I have done or that I have been a part of. Trust me, there are many. Tell them what didn’t work for you, tell them what caused a problem on an incident, tell them the lessons you have learned. If you see someone pulling a line wrong, holding a tool wrong, etc. show them a better way that has worked for you. You do not need a rank or title to help others learn, grow, and become more effective at their job as described earlier. Often times new firefighters would rather this input comes from the senior firefighter then from an officer. The senior firefighter is often viewed as a confidant of the new firefighter because they can ask questions without the fear of looking bad in front of the officer.

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I encourage each of you to find a mentor. Find someone, or a couple people, whose technical proficiency and professionalism portrays themselves and our fire service in a positive light. Ask them questions, ask them why they do things the way they do, ask them what mistakes they have made. Often those who are good leaders are good mentors. Also, keep in mind that someone may be looking to you as their mentor. Take the time and initiative to teach others and to pass on your experiences. Make sure you are giving those around you a positive influence and that you are bettering them as firefighters.

As always, take care of each other, be as safe as possible, but do what needs to be done,

Chief Cline

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