Mentoring: Opportunities to Pass Along the Tricks of the Trade

We need to create opportunities for our veteran folks to share the hard-earned lessons of their fire service careers.

I must have touched a responsive chord with my recent commentary on the approach to training in the basics of our firefighting world. That commentary led to some interesting e-mail interactions, as well as a number of really neat telephone conversations. These interactions were all pleasing to me in that each was an opportunity to hear what you folks out there across our nation had to say about the state of the world in general and the fire service in particular.

These personal visits with you kind folks usually happen in the same exact way. Someone will send me a particularly interesting e-mail message. Upon reflection I decide that I could reply by e-mail, but that such an endeavor would take far too much time for me, the one two-finger typist, to accomplish. In situations like this I will ask the person who has sent me an interesting e-mail to give me a call at my home.

In that way each of us can listen to the other and bounce ideas back and forth over the phone. Some of my best thinking has been done with a telephone planted in the crook of my neck, a cup of coffee in one hand and a pen scribbling on a note pad in the other. My friends this is a great way to think, act, and meet people. I love these interactions with you kind folks.

Recently one of my regular readers sent me a message which stimulated my creative juices. He sent a really interesting response to the commentary I had written on training. Rather than spend a great deal of time pounding the keys for an e-mail response, I asked him to give me a call.

Over the course of our telephone conversation, Randy Brown of Angola, IN, turned up the temperature a bit and got my creative juices boiling. He and I spoke of our thoughts about training. He mentioned that he felt that the existing NFPA standards were good. He said, however, that they should serve as the jumping off point for further training operations in the fire service.

He felt that in their own way, these standards were a justifiable starting point for a person's journey through the world of the fire service. He and I agreed that the many times the problems we have experiences did not come from the standards themselves, but from the wide range of ways in which the various states in the Union used the standards.

Randy likened the content of NFPA 1001 to the basic training in the military. He spoke of the core foundation in that standard upon which everything should be built. He spoke to the fact that safety, survival, fire suppression, tactics, fire prevention, public education, specialized rescue skills, as well as management and leadership should then be layered over the basic skills provided at the beginning of an individual's career.

He then went on to discuss of the importance of mentoring our new firefighters. He stated that, "mentoring the new firefighter is a team responsibility. Although one-on-one training and direction provide the educational foundation, the team as a whole is responsible to complete each mission."

I agreed with him wholeheartedly. I too believe that mentoring programs should be designed to first assist the new firefighter in mastering the basic core skill knowledge for the job (NFPA 1001). The next step in the mentoring process is how to properly apply what we have mastered. During this step, tricks of the trade will be introduced.

Randy and I agreed that there were those topics that should be taught which are rarely, if ever, found in the textbooks of our field. He and I agreed that these should be called the "tricks of the trade", for want of a better name. I went on to discuss my concerns regarding the loss of tacit knowledge in our field. These would be those tricks of the trade that a person managed to safely accumulate on their journey through the fire service world.

There are generally two overall types of knowledge at work in society at any time. There is the explicit knowledge which is readily available in the texts and training programs of any field. Explicit knowledge is that body of information which has been gathered, sorted, quantified, modified, and catalogued. It is available for all of us to use.

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