Mentoring For The Fire Service

The Fire Service is in a period of growth and transition. The growth of the communities in this nation has led to a need for more firefighters. Also, the fire service is experiencing the retirement of many of its senior firefighters and officers. Both situations are creating a situation of rapid promotion of firefighters to technical grades and officer grades.

Training of these firefighters is generally very good. But, the lack of experience is a concern. To address this need and to implement a program that is of benefit in any organization, a mentoring program can and should be developed. A mentoring program can be developed to create a culture of mentoring within any department; a culture that ideally will develop into increased informal mentoring throughout the organization.

The formal aspects of mentoring can be implemented through education by giving mentoring training to all officers. In addition, all newly promoted firefighters would complete one year of formal mentoring as prot?g?s. The reason for this is to impart knowledge, share experience, and to provide a nurturing environment for success to them.

The department's mentors should be senior officers who volunteer and are selected as mentors, outside the prot?g?s chain of command. Supervision and formal mentoring should be separate. The mentoring should be confidential and one-on-one. The success of the prot?g? is the goal. The program should be prot?g?-driven.

Mentoring is to complement performance and task success. Mentoring strives to accomplish the successful integration of the prot?g? into the technical and officer ranks. At some point the program should be self-perpetuating through informal and formal mentoring by officers who were once prot?g?s.

Mentoring is prot?g?-centered, not mentor, supervisor, teacher, or trainer- centered.

Not all leader behaviors can be classified as mentoring behaviors. The common mentoring behaviors and functions are:

  • Clarifying roles and objectives
  • Monitoring
  • Motivating and inspiring
  • Supporting
  • Developing
  • Recognizing/Rewarding
  • Role Modeling
  • Counseling
  • Coaching
  • Providing acceptance/confirmation

Leader activity that is generally not mentoring activity is:

  • Planning and Organizing
  • Problem Solving
  • Informing
  • Monitoring
  • Delegating
  • Supervising

Goals of Mentoring:

  • The primary goal for the mentor/prot?g? relationship is to provide guidance for the prot?g? to achieve growth.

  • Also to help the prot?g? see the possibilities and rise to the next level, both personally and professionally. Training augmented by mentoring increases a manager's productivity by 88%.

Objectives of Mentoring:

  • Establishing a relationship of trust.
  • Modeling of behavioral norms.
  • Listening to personal and job concerns.
  • Helping search for alternative solutions.
  • Sharing own relevant experiences.
  • Responding to emotional needs without creating dependency on mentor.
  • Develop long-lasting personal and informal relationships.

Benefits of Mentoring:

Prot?g? benefits:

Mentor benefits:

  • Sharing and taking pride in their prot?g?'s accomplishments.
  • Invigorates and renews their commitment to their job and their profession.
  • Leaves a legacy of the mentor.

Organization benefits:

  • More employees successfully complete their probationary periods.
  • The enthusiasm, camaraderie, and professionalism that mentoring programs often achieve affect positively the entire culture of the organization.
  • Promotes organizational values, norms and standards. Improved employee performance.
  • Increased commitment to the organization.
  • Improved flow of organizational information.
  • Improved leadership/management development.

These are a few ideas that should be considered in the development and implementation of your program.

  • Involve the entire department membership in the program development and implementation. Getting buy-in will be much more difficult if you do not.

  • Keep the preceptoring and mentoring separate. Preceptoring is task, supervisory, directive, and evaluative oriented. Mentoring is relationship; career and personal success oriented. Preceptors can informally mentor, Mentors should not precept.

  • When a prot?g? picks a mentor of their own choosing, it most closely resembles informal mentoring, which is more powerful than formal mentoring. Consider having the prot?g?s choose any senior officer as their mentor. In all cases the mentor would also need to accept the prot?g?.

  • Provide support and encouragement to all parties in the prot?g?/mentor teams. Do not let them squander their time and do not let the relationship drift.

  • Provide mentoring training to the department and to the mentors. Also, give the mentors communications training.

  • Evaluate the program throughout its progress and with a yearly evaluation and year-end report.

  • Maintain all confidences. If confidentiality is not maintained between the mentors and the prot?g?s, the program will fail, not just the pairing.

  • The Fire Department must provide support and resources for the success of the program. The administration, management, and supervisors must be participants and supporters. Money and time must be allocated.

  • If the department is not ready to implement a program, wait until all is in place. It will be very difficult to recapture and rebuild the lost support and buy-in if failure occurs due to poor planning, lack of resources, or lack of involvement.

Informal mentoring is very powerful. It has been taken for granted that it occurs throughout a fire department. This is not necessarily the case today with rapid promotions, fluid personnel shifting to new assignments, and the large number of retirements occurring. A formal mentoring program should be implemented, implemented correctly, to create a culture of mentoring on your fire department that promotes informal mentoring. Build a mentoring program to pass on your fire department's positive role modeling, history and culture.