The Oxford dictionary defines a mentor as an “experienced and trusted advisor.”
Bob Proctor says a mentor is “someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.”
I think it’s important to constantly evaluate yourself: are you pushing yourself everyday to be a better person, are you improving your improving basic skills, and learning new things? Having good mentors can help you continue to take steps to improve yourself, and they’re willing to call you out if you get off track. I firmly believe these people are the key to your success in the fire service.
With that being said, you want to be careful who you look up to and ask for guidance. With social media everyone likes to talk these days, so make sure who you’re listening to is worth it.
Things I look for in a mentor:
⁃ Easy to talk with
⁃ Hard working
⁃ Experienced (in life and in firefighting)
⁃ Morals/Values that align with mine
Good mentors are impossible to replace and don’t necessarily have to all be from your department. I believe you need three types of mentors. (If you’re lucky like me you’ll have more than one of each).
1. The department mentor. This person should obviously have more experience than you, and be someone worth looking up to. What I mean by this isn’t necessarily that they’ve won the most awards or had the most promotions; but they have a strong work ethic, are willing to teach, and are always working to find ways to improve themselves and the department. You should be able to trust that when you talk to them (unless it’s something they would have to report) that what you say will stay between the two of you. This is the person you turn to to when you have specific questions about your department- whether it be about how a call was handled, a training question, or when you’re unsure of how to handle various situations specific to your shifts.
2. Someone that is similar to you. (Does not necessarily have to be from your department.) This similarity could be in rank, such as if you’re both Lieutenants. Or a common specialization such as in Hazmat or EMS; if you’re a female, another female, etc. Someone that is able to more closely understand your situation. They are able to offer guidance in a way that takes into consideration your specific needs that someone without that similarity may not be able to.
3. Someone experienced outside of your department. In my opinion I believe this is the most important person for two reasons. One, if you only have mentors in your department they may not be able to see the situation outside of personal biases. The second reason is that if your only mentor is promoted to your supervisor, it may make future conversations difficult as they would have to separate being your boss from giving you unbiased advice. Again, this person should be easy to talk to, open with their personal experiences, and someone you can trust that what you say will stay in confidence. This person needs to be in your corner, but you also have to be able to trust that this person will call you on your crap if you need it.
When you find people who you would like to mentor you- reach out! Ask them if they would be willing to help teach and guide you in your career. Every few months ask them to meet for a cup of coffee or go visit them at their station. These meetings don’t have to be long, but they allow you to discuss how your career is going, and to get fresh advice. I think you’ll find most people are more than willing to share what they’ve learned with you if you just ask. I promise you, you will learn more than you can ever imagine, and it isn’t necessarily all about firefighting.
And one day, if you do it right, soaking up everything you can from the generations before us, you’ll become worth being a mentor to someone else. But you have to put in a lot of work first, and you better be willing to shut up and listen today.
I am beyond lucky to have the mentors I do, I firmly believe I would not be where I am today without them. They have pushed me to apply for the job at my department when I was unsure if I was ready, guided me when I’ve come across situations I didn’t know how to handle, and have motivated and pushed me when I was struggling.
Finally, remember to thank all of those who have been a mentor to you. They don’t have to take time out of their lives to teach and guide us, but we’re lucky they do. Express how much it all means to you, because you never know when the last time you’ll get to learn from them will be.
To all those who have been a mentor and friend to me- you know who you are. Thank you, it means more to me than you’ll ever know.