Mentorship: Improving the Fire Service One Member at a Time

Photo by Tim Olk.

By David Hesselmeyer

On July 20, 2017, I had the bittersweet honor of attending a friend’s funeral. This gentleman taught my emergency medical technician (EMT) course many years ago. He was definitely a “people person” and one who wanted everyone to succeed. As I stood there at his graveside, listening to the bells ring for his final call, I could not get my mind off how much he impacted me as an EMT and later as a paramedic as well as a business owner as well as how he impacted the countless others that he mentored. He would help anyone, not just his staff. He was definitely one of a kind.

A week after the funeral, I had thought about the idea of mentorship. There is not a single firefighter or EMT that has gotten to where he is without the help of instructors and others who served in a role as more than just an instructor. As I write this article, I have been in emergency services for almost 20 years. I think of all the mentors I have had and exactly how they have impacted me. My EMT instructor taught the information in such a way that would make you want to dive right in; stay after class, if needed; and take that information and apply it so you could pass the tests and be a very effective EMT.

Do we have enough mentors in today’s world of fire and EMS? I would answer no. Many of the people out there who have great information that could benefit their crews and members of their department are, unfortunately, scared, nervous, or feel that they may not have anything to add to the situation. Nothing could be more further from the truth. While I served on combination departments, many times I have had new members teach me valuable lessons such as how to get move farm equipment in the event that it traps a victim.

It is time for us, as a profession, to stand up and mentor others. There are several reasons for this.

 

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First, we cannot be on every call nor can we be on shift every day. Therefore, we need others to gain knowledge and experience so we, as an agency, can be more effective. As cliché as it may sound, a team is more effective than a single group. If we have one shift that is “Grade A” when it comes to every aspect, but there are two other shifts that do not do as well since because they were not mentored, we all still look bad despite you being on the Grade A shift.

Second, mentoring shows newer members that we care about them; this will lengthen their tenure with our department. Consider two volunteer departments. One has a proper rookie training process and a junior firefighter program. The other has neither. More often than not, you will see the department with both processes growing and members staying, while the other department may be stagnant.

Last (and perhaps most important), mentoring others leads to our ability to better save lives and property. This is likely why many of us got in to this profession—helping others and protecting them. So, if we are willing to help citizens, then why aren’t we willing to help our own crew and department members in being better to help the citizens as well.

There are multiple ways we can mentor others; some are simple, while others are more complicated. First, I always try to be open for questions from other members. This lets them know they can come to me with any question, be it about tools, buildings, or tactics. Recently, I was going over our new tower ladder and one of the members pointed to a tool and asked me what it was. I felt honored that he asked me; this leads me to believe that he trusts me. I then explained to and showed him what the K Tool was and how it worked, especially when used in commercial buildings. He now knows where the tool is located on the apparatus, what it is used for, and how to use it.

A more complicated task is taking on the role of rookie or junior member training. This requires time, effort, and dedication. It also requires the ability to get others to help mentor the members. I have had the pleasure of being responsible for rookie training over the course of a year at my current department. Although it was difficult and I did not do it perfectly, I am very happy to know that some of our rookies have gone on to be career members of large municipalities while others now serve as senior firefighters.

It is easy to skip out on being a mentor. Many times, we are too tired, want to goof off on our phones, or we become involved in something that is more time consuming, anything but training and taking the extra time to help our members. We must make mentoring a priority and fight stringently against laziness. Be part of a great solution, and make your department amazing. Ask your officer how you can help mentor someone or a group. Find ways to teach a class that is based on a topic that you are very knowledgeable about. Show the interest. It will be worth your time.

It is my hope, through writing articles and speaking at conferences, that I have been a positive mentor at my department for others around me. What a privilege it is!

As for my EMT mentor, I believe he is not fully gone as long as he lives inside the ones that he has impacted.

 

DAVID HESSELMEYER, EEM, MET-P, MPA, is a 20-year veteran of emergency services and serves with Buies Creek (NC) Fire Rescue. He is a certified firefighter, rescue technician, paramedic, instructor, and executive emergency manager. He has a master’s of public administration degree from East Carolina University. He is the owner of On Target Preparedness, LLC, an emergency services consulting firm based in North Carolina.

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