How mentoring can foster officer development
Two officers offer their insights into the benefits of mentorship
The FireRescue1 Academy includes the Fire Reality Training Video “Mentoring in the Fire Service.” Learn more about the important role mentoring plays in career development. Visit the FireRescue1 Academy to learn more and to schedule an online demo.
By Victoria Mikulan
Mentoring has long had its place in the fire service. Ask any firefighter, and they’ll name an individual, a fellow firefighter, officer or instructor who had a significant impact on their development during their career. Where other industries create formal mentorship programs to develop their talent, firefighting mentoring relationships tend to just happen. That doesn’t make them any less ineffective. However, formal mentor relationships often define the benefits to both participants.
While we expect the mentee to learn from the mentor, what can the mentor learn from the mentee or the experience? What impact does being a mentor have on their leadership capabilities? As leaders, officers often find themselves as mentors. By acting as a mentor, officers may find they can develop their skills as well.
The impact of your mentoring
Scott Garing, fire chief of the Harmony Fire District in Pennsylvania, believes that acting as a mentor has a significant impact on an officer and leader. One reason he believes mentoring helps officers develop is that you are always learning as an officer and leader. Through mentoring, you learn from your mentees, and that helps you when you’re teaching others. As fire chief, Garing aims to pass on a core set of values to his mentees/junior officers so that one day they transition seamlessly into his role. “It is the best legacy I can leave,” he explains.
Steve Prziborowski, a deputy fire chief with the Santa Clara County (California) Fire Department agrees, saying that it is an officer’s duty to mentor as many as we can: “If we don’t train our replacements, who will? Good mentors are not threatened by the success of others; instead, they encourage and are proud of the successes of others.” Mentoring can be an act of self-reflection; mentors become invested in their mentee’s success.
Further, Prziborowski says mentoring helped him develop and made him more self-aware as an officer: “While my mentoring may assist someone else, it also assists and energizes me, too. Being able to pay it forward, and pass it on, are critical to my personal and professional growth as well. Holding my knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences without ever sharing does not benefit anyone. We all have an obligation to train our replacements, as we are all only temporarily holding a position in time, regardless of wherever we are at.”
Mentoring is a responsibility. You are guiding the individuals who will make life-saving decisions in the future, Garing explains. To quote “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Master Yoda, the Jedi mentor, says simply about teachers and students, “We are what they grow beyond.”
Similarly, Garing comments that, “Bad leaders have bad mentors.” It is an interesting and significant thought in terms of officer development that provokes reflection. Your lessons can live on past your relationship with your mentee. What your mentee learns from you becomes a reflection of you.
What do you learn from mentoring?
Patience and succeeding after failure are lessons learned from mentoring that help develop an officer. Garing notes that he had a mentor who watched him fail – but then helped him fix it. Prziborowski states that it is OK to fail because it can provide an opportunity to succeed – and appreciate what success gives you. Additionally, they both underscore how rewarding it can be to see their mentee succeed, demonstrating the personal investment mentoring can draw.
Another investment mentors put in is time. It can be frustrating when someone you are trying to guide resists. This is where patience becomes a valuable lesson to mentors and officers. Both Garing and Prziborowski note that patience is a critical skill for an officer to have and to recognize that everyone is different with their own issues. Even with frustrations such as these, Prziborowski emphasizes the significance of having the opportunity to mentor: “As challenging as it can be for some to be a mentor, realize that it is a gift to be able to be a mentor. Not everyone gets the opportunity to be in that position. Not everyone gets asked to mentor someone else.” Garing also notes that change doesn’t happen overnight but said that, “A true leader is tolerant of that and recognizes that change can happen.”
Sometimes that change applies to you. We will all make mistakes, regardless of position. But none of us will be effective if we do not learn from those mistakes and pass on those lessons. Self-awareness and reflection as a mentor can help you grow as an officer. It can offer you different perspective or teaching others may allow you to learn more about yourself.
The fire service continues to evolve; firefighters and officers alike should continue to develop, too. Mentoring is one way to help you lead the way, for yourself to develop and to develop others for the future.
About the author
Victoria Mikulan is a volunteer firefighter/EMT in a suburb located outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a professional writer by career. She has a bachelor’s degree in English studies from Robert Morris University (Pennsylvania) and a Master’s of Public Administration from Pennsylvania State University.