Because what’s inside matters.
I saw that line recently in an ad for bunker gear and my first thought was, “Yes, the people inside the gear matter. Good slogan.” My next thought was, “What’s inside the people who are inside the bunker gear matters too.” It matters a great deal.
I believe all firefighters have several things in common regardless of whether they are full time or volunteer – the desire to help others, to give back to their communities, and to make a difference in the lives of others, both outside and inside the fire service. We all do the same job to one degree or another, and in some cases, we even train together. Even the courses we take – in Ontario at the Ontario Fire College, at FDIC Atlantic in Nova Scotia, at Training in Paradise on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia – there is often a mix of career and volunteer members, firefighters, officers and, in some cases, chiefs.
Although we all have common goals and values, all firefighters are not the same. Take a moment and think of the people in your own fire hall or department: who comes to mind when I use the word leader or mentor?
Fire departments are made up of myriad people who have different personalities, backgrounds and strengths. Diversity is what makes the fire service what it is, and strong leadership from the people who inspire us is what makes the teams within it so effective.
While I was writing this, I was contemplating working with a fire-service mentor to help me build my skills and knowledge base, and work toward advancing my fire-service career. Anyone can be a mentor; often, all it takes is asking.
Knowledge and experience: Those who have been involved in the fire service for a number of years have likely experienced a lot; however, this doesn’t guarantee that they’ve learned a lot or know a lot. It won’t take long to figure out if someone has the knowledge and expertise that you’re looking for in a mentor. The fire service is full of members who have knowledge and training in all facets of the job, and who would more than likely be happy to share what they know with you. There is a wealth of information out there and there is much to be learned from the experiences of others. Sharing information and learning from others is also a huge part of the tradition of the fire service (not to mention the stories from the good ol’ days of what not to do.)
Charismatic/magnetic personality: If you find yourself drawn to certain people in the fire service, they are likely to be good mentors. Not all personalities are the same, but there are many of the same personalities as yours out there. You may follow these people on Twitter or Facebook, read their columns/blogs, or meet them on courses or at conferences. If you find that you can relate to them, what they are saying, and how they are saying it, chances are they are a good match. Of course, a sense of humour goes a long way too, and I find that it’s always a quality found in charismatic members of the fire service. The fire service is serious business, but fostering an environment in which one feels relaxed and open to learning is vitally important to success.
Genuineness: There is a lot to be said for the people you would describe as genuine or the real deal. In the fast-paced and ever-evolving fire-service environment, finding someone to mentor you who is genuine in manner and offers heartfelt advice is a necessity. The genuine ones are most concerned with helping others bring out their best; they recognize that when we are at our personal best we are able to perform at our professional best.
Respect: Whom do you respect and for whom do you have the utmost respect? Are these the same people? The fire service command structure dictates that at the very least we are to respect the position, if not the person. I believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, but there are indeed some among us for whom we carry a higher level of respect, and it’s not necessarily dependent on rank. I took a fire-prevention course at the Ontario Fire College in the summer at which one of the students was a fire chief. I have a lot of respect for that person, simply because he was there. However, he wasn’t just there, he was learning just as the rest of us were – together. As a chief, you’ve already made it to the top. As a person, the fact that this chief was in the class alongside firefighters, officers, plans examiners and a member of the Office of the Fire Marshal speaks volumes about that individual.
Passion: Is everyone you know in the fire service passionate about his or her job? There’s a difference between those who clearly have a passion for what they do – whether it’s responding to the calls, training firefighters, performing inspections, teaching students or providing public education to schools and community groups – and those who are simply putting in time. People who have a passion for what they do reflect that in how they do what they do and why they do it. Their enthusiasm is contagious and it makes you want to strive to be a better firefighter.
Is mentoring for you? Whether you are looking for someone to mentor you, or you are in a position to mentor others, having someone with whom you can share ideals and ideas, ask questions without feeling foolish, and be inspired to do and be your best, can be as important to your growth in the fire service as regular training.
You will meet all kinds of people in the fire service but not everyone will inspire you to learn, grow and achieve. Surround yourself with those who do.
Jennifer Mabee-Grigg has been a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario since 1997. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee
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