The success of establishing a mentor program

CarolinaFireJournal - Chad Beam
Chad Beam
10/10/2014 -

Looking at the fire service in 2014, we see a lot of different practices that were not in place just five or six years ago. A large problem in the fire service today is staffing and trying to keep up with our ever-growing fire districts. As money is allocated in our budgets, we hire new firefighters, but one problem seems to exist across the nation - the lack of mentorship in the fire service.


Many times we hire firefighters straight out of the academy or fresh out of their basic classes and the only experience they have comes from a somewhat controlled environment in a burn building. This by no means is a bad thing because if we didn’t, how would these firefighters ever get experience? As our seasoned firefighters promote up or retire, we forget to pass along everything they passed along to us. Establishing a concrete plan for mentoring helps to eliminate this problem. Let’s take a look at some things we can do to establish that program.

The Building Blocks

Just like anything else we do, we have to start from the beginning, and establishing a mentor program within your fire department is no exception. The first step is to decide what type of program you would like to have. Do you want a mentor program that is only for new employees or do you want a mentor program that assists with promotions as firefighters move up the chain?

Having decided what type of program you would like to pursue, next you must develop the requirements for being a mentor. Of course the person that was hired yesterday may not be the best choice, but you have plenty of experience in your department. Choose someone that’s well versed in all aspects of the job. If you have someone that is extremely strong in pumping, reserve them for a time when someone is ready to test for engineer and so on.

After developing the requirements for what it takes to be a mentor, then you must decide how long the mentor program will last. This is up your department based upon how long the probation period is where you work.

Next, establish benchmarks that the employee must meet while in the mentor program and how he or she will be evaluated. Remember, when we evaluate, it should be used to gauge just how well the employee is doing and should allow us to see weaknesses so we may be able to assist in bettering that category.

Mentoring is Not a Bad Thing

Many times we hear someone is being mentored and we think, “uh oh, what have they done?” That is absolutely the wrong way to look at it. The fact that someone is being mentored means they’re gaining knowledge that they can only obtain from experience. I personally have had some of the best mentors there are — in both EMS and the fire service, and would not have traded that for the world. I continue to have mentors and always will.

This business, unlike any other, requires change on a daily basis. We never run the same call twice or have the same day, so that allows us to be in an ever-changing profession. Most of what we do cannot be learned in a classroom but merely from experience. Having a mentor that’s been in the profession for a while will help turn that into a seamless transition from new to experienced.

So just because someone has a mentor, don’t think of it as a punitive measure, but an experience that will do nothing but help grow that firefighter into a more mature and seasoned employee.

Putting it All Together

Deciding to develop a mentor program is one of the best decisions a department can make. When you think of the future of your department, you’d like to think of a strong, motivated and progressive department. The only way our departments will continue with a strong history and progressive ways of firefighting is if we learn as much as we can from the seasoned firefighters and we turn around and pass it on.

We have a lot of traditions in the fire service; passing knowledge is one of them. We need to ensure that this is not a dying tradition but one that continues to grow in strength. If you make the decision to establish a mentor program, design a program that suits your department and your needs, and you will have a recipe for success. Allowing the ability for success and not failure is such a feat for the fire service. Making sure that we set our new employees up for success to continue what we’ve started is a must.

Our forefathers have paved the way and now we will continue it and pass it along to ensure the best fire service our districts can have! Remember, taking time to learn from experience beats any day in a classroom! Learn it, pass it along, and make sure your department’s future is better because of you!

As always — yours in training.

Chad Beam has over 10 years in Fire/EMS. He feels fortunate to have grown up in the business watching his dad. Now he’s enjoying the same great profession in both fire and EMS, employed by the City of Fountain Inn Fire Department where he serves as a Firefighter/Paramedic. He is also employed with Greenville County EMS as a part-time paramedic. Beam currently teaches for the South Carolina Fire Academy as well as Greenville Technical College Continuing Medical Education program. He can be reached at [email protected].

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