Mentoring Fire Departments

I would like to address a possible method for improving the performance or general state of being for some Fire Departments that may find themselves with very serious problems that have caused morale to degenerate.


I would like to address a possible method for improving the performance or general state of being for some Fire Departments that may find themselves with very serious problems that have caused morale to degenerate. That is, the idea of "Mentoring" the Fire Department. A Fire Department that needs mentoring is usually a department that, in effect, needs to rebuild itself.

Mentoring is a function that goes beyond hiring consultants or other professionals to conduct studies to point out anomalies and recommend remedies for the Fire Department. A mentor is someone who must boost the morale of the firefighters and use this new found energy as a major resource to revitalize the department.

The need for a mentor is most prominent in developing nations and to a lesser degree in industrialized countries. In the "Third World," firefighters are faced with the same types of emergencies as anywhere else, however they lack uniforms, equipment or training and morale is virtually non existent. In the Western World there are Fire Departments that may have suffered a severe crisis, years of mismanagement or internal politics which have caused morale to deteriorate.

I have had the privilege of serving in the capacity of a mentor in reorganizing Fire Departments in many countries. While I was not hired as a "Mentor" I realized that to be effectively successful I needed to be and do more than just provide technical assistance to the fire service in reconstructing an organization. In fact, there were other people who were engaged in similar activities but I noticed they were not achieving much success. In some cases they actually generated disdain by the firefighters they were sent to help. This, I believe, was due to the fact that these individuals were seen as imported technocrats and were therefore extraneous to the Fire Department as an organization and to the firefighters as individuals. Those who are involved in helping Fire Departments rebound must work from the inside out. They must be mentors to the Fire Department in the true sense of the word.

The definitions of a mentor are various. A mentor can be considered an advisor or counselor. He could be, to a certain extent, an instructor, trainer or teacher. However, my experiences have taught me that a successful mentor is somewhat all of the above in addition to being a competent guide and a skillful coach. He must also be dynamic, practical and accessible.

My approach has always been to serve as a mentor more in the capacity of a coach than a teacher. A coach is considered as integral to the team, while a teacher is seen more as predicating from a pedestal. By being one who is part the team, if I'm successful, they're successful and if I fail, we all fail.

My greatest success and greatest challenge was rebuilding the fire service in Kosovo. It was here that I realized that my work had served more as mentoring rather than providing technical/professional assistance.

In June 1999, in the aftermath of the conflict which brought about the retreat of the Yugoslav Army from the Serbian province of Kosovo, the United Nations assumed the task of politically administrating the territory. All of the responsibilities of government were now handled by the U.N. and were carried out by functionaries from around the world. I was appointed the United Nations Fire Chief for Kosovo.

My duties as U.N. Fire Chief, in addition to commanding and administering the Fire Department, were to reorganize the entire service. The problems I faced were most complex and my daily decisions often translated into side effects of international politics. Kosovo is inhabitated by 1.8 million people that occupy 10,800 square kilometers. To help me rebuild this service I had put together an international team of firefighters that eventually represented 10 countries on 3 continents.

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