It wasn’t until recently; with the passing of Chief Alan “Bruno” Brunacini, that I realized just how very fortunate in the later portion of the first decade of my career I have been. I have had the opportunity to train and learn from some of what I consider the greatest leaders in the modern American fire service. All of these men and women stepping up to guide me made me realize just how critical the role of the mentor is in our business.
In the first half of the first decade of my career I was excited and loved going to work; hoping each day learn something new from the senior and seasoned guys on my department. I got one hell of an education too, an education on how not to mentor and coach people. The senior and seasoned guys that worked at my department did not make it easy to be excited about the job when all they wanted to do was sit around and watch tv and then complain when the tones would go off.
Strangely enough, I worked at that department for eight and half years. Why, you may ask? I grew comfortable there and it became very easy just to fall in line with the rest of guys and sit around and watch TV all day long after rig checks.
After all; I knew what I was doing. I had passed the tests and earned the certifications. Why should I train if they’re not going to too? All of these thoughts regularly ran through my head daily for eight and half years. Thankfully, by some miracle I went almost a decade without any serious mishaps or anything going sick and wrong on me.
Three years into my career I began working part time for another department that I realized there was so much for me to learn. It was a night and day difference from my full time department and I was ecstatic! We trained every shift and the senior and seasoned guys on that department actually took the time to show me things that I wasn’t familiar with.
What I offer you in this article are four tips that I think illustrate just how important being a mentor is in Fire/EMS.
1. Mentorship and coaching covers up the experience gap: The senior guys are coming up and taking their retirements. Some departments are loosing several hundred years of experience at a time when large groups of guys retire and it leaves a huge experience and education gap. Consequently, younger guys coming into the department are left trying to figure things out without that steadfast hand of the senior guy to show them the right way to do things.
2. Mentoring keeps people from making unnecessary mistakes: I mentioned earlier on in this article that I really didn’t have anyone to show me the right way until later on my career. I didn’t realize it right away but not having that senior seasoned guy there to guide me along the way really hurt my career. I was left a lot of the time trying to figure things out as I went along and use the best common sense that I could to make decisions. Some of those decisions were not the best because I didn’t really know any better which led to unwanted headaches and problems.
3. What you allow in your presence quickly becomes the accepted behavior: Earlier in this article I mentioned how the senior guys in my department spent more time watching tv and complaining about the tones going off then actually training like they should’ve been. What kind of example does that set for a young, eager, and excited firefighter? A bad one, thats what.
My friend Andy Stumpf is a former Navy Seal and leadership consultant. A few weeks ago he made a comment on his podcast about what you allow in your presence quickly becomes the accepted behavior. Those words really resonated to me just how important mentorship and coaching are; especially if you have a large influx of young firefighters coming into your agency. Be the example and always do the right thing, no matter who is watching.
4. Mentoring keeps you and them excited about the job: I moved to the Denver area in 2015 and got a job with a small private ambulance company while I got my feet wet in big city EMS. My field training officers was a very well seasoned paramedic and I learned a lot from him. He made a comment to when I told him that I was experienced and probably didn’t much coaching that I still think about to this day.
If you can run a call and afterwards not think of a single thing that you could improve or change about your performance then you should drop the mic and retire, because that will never happen again. Mentoring gives you the opportunity learn something new and different from each call or each and every situation. When I am constantly learning I am excited about the job and want to always put my best foot forward and the same goes for the new guys. When you teach them something new everyday they are going to be excited about coming to work.
I hope that these four reasons I have offered here illustrate how important mentoring is in the emergency services. We the senior more experience guys and girls need to be excited to pass on knowledge to the newer less experienced guys and girls coming onto the job. Don’t be like the senior guys that used to work at my department that would complain when I didn’t know something and give me a hard time about it.
In closing, I want to issue a challenge to everyone that might read this article. Find one person in your department and mentor them, show them the right way. Bring them up instead of beating them down and see how excited you get about the job!
Stay safe out there!