First, let me say I'm honored to have the opportunity to express my views to you. I am small town, small department and it never ceases to amaze me how the internet has given us all an equal voice.
This is my sore point. I work in a state that has virtually ignored officer education and training, preferring to believe that either they learn it on the way or they get it from college fire science programs. I'm sorry, but even though I have great respect for the University I work and teach for, it has made little progress in teaching firefighters how to become great leaders. Our department is known in the state for producing leaders though. The largest department in the state has several officers and the Deputy Chief among them who count themselves among the alumni of our department's student program. But this leadership training has come from the company officers, not the fire chief, and not the fire science program. It has come from being in the streets of a real city, working the job with real firemen. There is no other training that I am aware of that provides what is needed.
Yes, there is administrative training, but that isn't what we're talking about. It is demoralizing to see the amount of officers who have no clue how to lead their people and worse, how many really aren't worried about it.
As for me, I spend a large amount of time encouraging, counceling and guiding the younger officers and men that work with and for me, and those I know in other departments. I try to create officer training and mentoring right where I'm standing because I've been told more than once that "if you didn't have it when you got here, you're not going to get it" What crap!! What that really means is " We have no idea how to teach you to be a leader". I believe if our state is to have what it needs in the next few decades, it is people in positions like mine who have to step up and be the kind of leader that we have only been able wish for ourselves. I'm so tired of power minded fire officer's who bristle at the mere mention of doing our job or spending time and money on our own people. God forbid they might become good leaders and do a better job than we do. Couldn't have that could we?
A young firefighter from our program recently came by to talk with me and he expressed his discouragement at finding so little leadership in the big department he now works for. He finds a lack of character and integrity and worse, is discouraged from being a leader himself. (go figure). I pointed out to him that he has been mentored, that I personally have invested a lot of time in him, and that it was time for him to build on those lessons and make his own mark. We had this talk over beers and cigars during a funeral for another FOOL. Looking at the noisy gathering of Alaskan firemen, he said, "Look what you have managed to do here!!" almost as if I had built the FOOLS chapter by myself. "There aren't any firemen like you where I am now". I thought "if only I had had someone to look up to like that". I felt very selfish at that point and wished he was still a student and still worked in our department. For every ten fire students that become firefighters in our department, less than half seem to appreciate the effort we make on their behalf.
"You have been taught. You have seen, now you have to go and blend what you learned from me and others, into something you call your own and be the leader you are looking for. You should strive to be better than me. Surpass me. Create leaders behind you!! The fire service needs that. In the end, when guys are talking about what you taught them, instead of what I taught "back in the day", then I've done my job.
That's what I think mentoring is. You can't really package it as I think many try to do. The mentoree must seek out the mentor. Two firemen create it where they stand.
President, Farthest North FOOLS
i remember hearing a saying one time -- a leader who develops others adds. A leader who develops leaders multiplies
Mentoring is a great responsibility -- one in which you can never fail the mentoree -- it seems like you get it -- stay on it
Always read the question first, then open your mouth. I misread what you asked, blathered up a storm and then reread the question. Yeah....
Anyway, I have had a few good mentors, but never one that I was able to directly work for, which is exactly where the young man in my diatribe finds himself. You are right though. For every one firefighter we mentor, we duplicate ourselves tenfold.
The people Ihave learned the most from were leaders that put thier troops first, in every instance, even when that meant going against what the troops want, or understand that they need. Leadership isn't for the weak of heart.
I believe that the people who helped shape me in to the person I am today where the formal and informal leaders of the various fire departments that I belonged to. Over the course of my career I have had some great leaders, Lt's, Bc's Chiefs, crew bosses, and barn bosses. The first rule I learned was to be your self and not fake it. The 2nd rule was to keep going to school to learn new things in the fire service as well as higher education. If I had only one thing to tell someone new to the fire service to help them out it would be that the fire service owes you nothing, if you want something work hard and set yourself apart from the herd.
My first Captain was a true mentor. He taught me how important my role was on the team and the responsibility I had. He made me learn my job without me really knowing I was always being trained. The senior firefighters I first worked with had a great way of getting the point across, bettering me and most importantly they lived the Brotherhood. My boss at the college I currently work for helped me develop as an instructor by presenting be with great challenges and then the support to see that I would succeed. I have learned more from my current bosses in the last seven years then I have learned in the previous 20….what a great experience. It all boils down to taking care of the guys. All of the Brothers at FDIC……..the willingness of everyone to share knowledge, experience and the Brotherhood. Finally Chief John T. the Chief of a very small Texas FD that puts many “Big Time” departments to shame. It just goes to show what a little leadership can do. He helped me learn that anyone can make it work if you have the vision, desire and persistency.
From all of this I have learned there is more to know then I will ever learn. That to be a good firefighter you must have passion for the position, a desire to always be better, that pride, honor and integrity are essential and that we must pass on what we have been taught, what we have learned and what we have lived.
There have been a few firefighters that have made a significant impact on my career, but I have to give credit to those Chiefs, Officers and Firefighters that I have never met. Thorugh books, articles and websites such as this...I have been able to learn, grow, and become a stronger individual. Unfortunately I am at a small Suburban/rural department that hasn't had to change much until these last few years and that is including it's senior members.
It has been our 3-7 year members who get online, go to conferences, read articles, watch videos, take classes, and we reach out and find our mentors. We then take those lesson and teach it to all those who will listen. But my boys and I are in an organization that lacks leadership and accountability from the top. Which leads me to one one of my biggest challenges!
How do you lead, when your "leaders" are mutts! In our department, we have some very progressive firefighters who do everything they can to instill the values and train our junior members. Only to have our probies turned loose to our Senior members and officers who consistently deteriorate our organizaton. Our service delivery comes secondary to the social club that we have become. We are trying to shield our probies from this through mentorship, but we only have so much contact with them. And as much as we try to avoid it, but we can't stop our selves from telling our firefighters not to listen to the officer's.
I know how bad that may sound, but belive me... our "officers" are not what you may think. It is a very tricky subject, but the jist of it is... ALLWAYS where all of your PPE and SCBA , Never breath smoke, do not freelance, and know your responsibility of being a firefighter!!!! Our officers do the opposite and are frequently the examples of which we teach our firefighters not to do!
I am hoping that someone has some insight or words of wisdom to share. We are mentally fatigued, moral is low, and we are losing some of our best firefighters. We really could use a mentor right now!
You are among mentors throughout this website. All you need do is ask. Advice and experience are free for the taking.
I started out in a hard charging company, dog eat dog was the name of the game and leadership didn't exist. I moved on, and each department I worked for seemed to struggle with the same problem. Lack of leadership. Eventually, I got pissed off. Just about where you are.
I had the advantage perhaps of having been a U.S. Marine, I knew how to lead and I knew bad leadership. So I just started leading where I was, at the rank that I was and with confidence. It was never easy, but there was usually someone who grudingly gave way to my efforts because it clearly had a professional and positive affect. Many of those above me whose leadership I hated so much actually appreciated my efforts after a while. You would be suprised how many people, will approve of change in time, when they don't feel as though they could live up to it themselves.
How do you lead from the bottom? Well you begin by using a compass. Here is a good one: FTM-PTB-KTF-RFB-DTRT-EGH. You may have seen it before. It was in me long before I ever saw it in print. It translates like this: You fight the Mutts, at every corner, sometimes giving up a small battle, but taking aim at more important ones that you must win. You protect your brothers at all times, even the ones that don't deserve it. Step in the line of fire for them. You will gain support by doing so and the probies will begin to understand a part of this Brotherhood that they have not been exposed to before. Keep the Faith with these brothers. Always teach, always train, always embrace, always reach out and create a culture amongst yourselves that is irresistable to be a part of. It should not be based on hatred of Mutts either. Hate eats people up. It should be based on the beauty of our performance under fire and our comeradeship as a Band of Brothers. Keep this Faith alive, by observing the remembrance of fallen brothers in the right perspective. Let no one fall without noting their passing and let other learn from their deaths. That is how you prevent their sacrifice from being wasted. Then you make sure you always do the right thing. Always move in the right direction. You have to temper this, just like you do when you with FTM. Another brother I know puts it this way, "you only have so much change to spend, so spend it wisely. Save most of your change for the big fights" The "change in your pocket" is the credibility you have as a senior man or young officer. Spend it wisely in doing the right thing, for if you waste it on small, petty arguments, you will have nothing left to fight with when you really need all your crediblity on the table.
Last but not least. Make sure Everybody Goes Home. Do everything you can to provide the brothers training so that in the end your consience is clear. I often think about how my reputation for nipping at my chiefs heels must irritate them at times. But when I retire, maybe they'll get to say "See, you worried for nothing." I can take that. I don't ever want to have to say to them, "I warned you about this".
These days I am a senior officer with many years of probies behind me. My performance is daily haunted by the memories of poor officers that disgraced our profession. I remember each one, so that I do not become like them. I give my people everything I have. I tell them that their performance and skill is critical, because I can't leave them behind, and I want to see my family at the end of the tour, so they have to come back out of whatever we go into. I keep my compass in front of me at all times and I always look in the mirror and try to see the flaws I know are there. None of us are perfect. But if you look at your mistakes and bad habits, you can begin to work on them, ............something the Mutts you face have never done.
I did not want to become and fire fighter at first,but I came across a many and accidents,first on the scene,the Mayor of
our town said I should become and fire fighter.I use to be and EMT in Georgia,When I moved to SC.,I found myself helping the EMT' out on many and scene,that is when the Mayor showed up and said You should become and fire fighter,I thought about it,since I only live not and mile from the Fire House. I went though the academy ,The training courses and hands on experience..and it has been 5 years,and I feel like i need to know more and more.
The Chief of our dept,is one great fireman,we all work to gather.We are a team .We think ,we are no better than the next person. WE ,,,have rules to go by,we stand by those rules.If the Mayor had not talk and talk to me,about becoming and firefighter,i would of not been in this profession'.When that tone goes off,one foot is already in the cab...
We are not just one fire dept,we are and combination of others,we help..
I have been fortunate to have had several senior firefighters and company officers act as mentors when I started as a firefighter some 20 odd years ago. Some of these men are now chief officers or captains still on the job. I'm luck enough to still benefit from their words and deeds to make me a better company officer. What they offered me, and what I try to offer my firefighters is to give the job something every day. Do what you can to improve yourself, your dept., and the future of the dept. Think this way each day and you will always do the right thing! Improve in your trade each day, pass along your knowledge and experience to anyone who will listen and you will have a successful and enjoyable career!
When I was hired 20 years ago, I was assigned to a fire company that had been together for a number of years prior to my arrival. I never realized it at the time how lucky I was to be with three great firefighters and a progressive captain. The captain was always challenging us to “find a better system” as he called it. It seemed we were always adapting a tool or practicing the core competencies of our job.
When I think back to where I am now in my career, I feel very fortunate that my initial assignment was with this fire company, especially the three mentors that I had as fellow firefighters (I'll call them "S," "R" and "M"). Sometimes senior members talk down or belittle the new members thinking that is how they will get the newbie’s respect. "S," "R" and "M" treated me like a brother from day one. I knew my place and that I had to prove my worth to the crew. They gained my respect by teaching me what I needed to know to do my job and stay safe.
“M” taught me to be a student of my profession. He taught me to learn as much as I could through magazine articles, textbooks and eventually the internet. We would spend hours on and off the job discussing various techniques and methods of ventilation, attack, fire stream, hose lays, forcible entry and a number of other things. He taught me about trucks — a lot of which, to this day, I don’t think I need to know (puff limiter valves and axle ratios and other technical stuff). I thanked him 14 years later for his contribution to my career development. He was being transferred to a new crew to become their captain. I let him know I was happy for him and that his new crew was really lucky to be getting him as a boss. It was most ironic that I replaced him on our shift as an acting captain. I made a personal pledge that I would honor him by being the mentor to others that he was to me. He is retiring this summer with nearly 30 years of service, and he will leave a h*** in our organization — but only for a short time, because he left a lot of guys like me in his wake that have benefited greatly just by being around him and learning all “M” had to share.
“S” is a very intelligent, disciplined man who has the respect of every last person in our department. With no slight on anyone, he is likely the benchmark for the captains in our organization. Firefighters look forward to being under his command. They want him as a boss no matter what station or crew it may be. He makes everyday worthwhile coming to work. You may not respond to a call all day, but you will be a better firefighter and more prepared because of something you have trained on or a job that has been completed around the station. He became a captain shortly after “M,” and when he left our shift for his new assignment, I knew another crew would benefit from one of my early mentors. His decisions are always in the best interest of the job and his people, and his firefighters love him for that. “S” will retire soon and we will miss him too, but it’s really something to think of how many people in our department have benefited from him just being here; as a mentor, friend, counselor and captain. “S”, when you can leave a job knowing that people wanted to be around you, you know you’ve done something right in your career.
“R” taught me to laugh at myself and others and not to take this job too serious. There is enough seriousness in our job — we need to have fun too. “R” is another captain and soon to retire. Thirty years ago, he almost didn’t get hired due to a goofy technicality in city policy where relatives could not work for the municipality. Sometimes I think about how close the city and our department came to missing out on a real quality person and great firefighter. He challenges his crew daily to improve their abilities including getting members to deliver a training session on everything they know about “________”. Even the junior guy gets put on the hot seat because “R” knows that you truly learn something when you teach it. He has an uncanny ability to anticipate on the fireground. He always knows what to do and has a quiet way of leading his crew to perform safely and professionally. He is the kind of guy every firefighter wants as a leader and friend.
These three guys have supported me throughout my career from probie firefighter to assistant chief. I owe much of my success in my career to these three people. Thanks guys.
I wonder how many other junior firefighters are blessed with mentors like I had; experienced firefighters who shares their knowledge and take a genuine interest in a rookie’s development.
Captains and veteran firefighters are stuck with the rookies that the chief hires. The training officer does what he can to orient them to their new job and make them as job ready for the street as he can. What happens after that is up to the captain and crew. Rookies are like impressionable children. Don’t treat them like kids because they aren’t. Treat them like your own children. Teach them to be safe; to never bring shame upon their family (department/ job); to dress neat and be nice; to stand up for themselves; to respect other members of the family and public; to learn something everyday; to look after themselves and each other and to take care of their house and toys.
Mentoring will pay off in so many ways for not only the crew but the future of the department. Every veteran firefighter should invest time and interest in the new member. As a veteran of this profession, shame on you if you don’t share your knowledge with your new members and shame on you for dishonoring those that came before you if you don’t pass on what they have taught you.
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