I believe mentors and advocates can change the world.
They have changed mine.
When I decided to do a complete about-face in my life, to follow my heart and pursue a career in firefighting, I did not know how important mentorship and advocacy would be. I know now that I could not have become a firefighter without mentors and advocates, steadily positioned at my side.
– Daunting Beginnings –
Firefighting is one of the dozens of careers labeled as “a non-traditional career for women”–non-traditional because women comprise less than 25% of total employment. Today women make up roughly 4.8 % of firefighters in the fire service in the United States.
Let me give you an idea of the relative infancy of women working in the fire service institution. While history has recorded women helping their communities fight fires since the 1800s and during times when the men were off to wars, the first female, career firefighter in the US was hired in 1973. When yours truly was first hired, I was surprised to find out I was working along side the first woman ever hired in my department. I was incredulous, as I realized the embryonic stages of women in the fire service-that I was now part of. In my mind, this first women firefighter of my own department was (and is) living history.
When I began the journey of becoming a firefighter, I observed that I was one of a handful of women among my peers. I immersed myself in all the standard activities that would eventually find me fighting fires, responding to medical emergencies, and birthing babies that want to come STAT, in the garage, on the floor, NOW.
I took first responder medical classes, fire science classes and physical agility classes to prepare myself. I worked on an ambulance and worked-out like a fiend. While all these activities certainly helped me to become a firefighter, the best thing I ever did during this time, was to connect with folks who were to become my mentors and advocates.
As I found myself on dozens of ride-a-longs with different fire service agencies, as I found myself in a position as a new volunteer firefighter–able to train with and learn from seasoned firefighters–the mentors began to make their appearance.
– Instilling Hope, Opening Doors –
I found women firefighters who encouraged me and talked to me about their own experiences in their career beginnings. I was further encouraged when firefighters, who were men, added their supportive comments to our conversations. These men and women gave me their time, passed on tips, suggestions and advice, the things I could look forward to in a career, and those things I would find challenging as a smaller statured woman. They told me I could do it, to keep going, I would get there. I excitedly absorbed it all in, like a fascinated child looking up wide-eyed and open-mouthed at story time.
These are the gifts of Mentors:
Mentors see potential. They are visionaries, in a sense, who see beyond what you can see for yourself.
Mentors let you know they believe in you.
Mentors encourage you to know you can succeed.
Mentors foster hope.
Mentors promote self-empowerment
Mentors see the seed of success in others. They know the seeds just need to be watered.
Mentors believe you can Do it, Be it, Have it.
Mentors activate the rightness and perfection in people, right where they are.
As I continued to pursue my dreams, the advocates came on to the scene.
Advocates continue the momentum that your mentors have built up. Advocates are vocal and actionary. They are your allies. In my case, these were the men and women who not only told me they believed in me, but they also told others that they believed in me. They made their support public.
These are the gifts of Advocates:
Advocates champion you.
Advocates speak up for you and pull for you.
Advocates promote, support, and vouch for you.
Advocates are doers, action-oriented; they get things done, get the ball rolling, and get you the right contacts.
Advocates stick their necks out for you.
Advocates open doors on your behalf.
Advocates support you publicly.
Here is another secret to advocacy: When you are an advocate for yourself, you are more likely to have others advocate for you too. When you believe in yourself, put yourself out there, people are inspired to help.
When times got tough, on my journey to the fire service, and I felt like there were too many obstacles to my goals, I would think about my mentors and advocates. Their belief in me would buoy me, and I would find myself heartened and on track, once again. I am profoundly grateful for all my mentors and advocates, past and present. I am grateful to them, personally, and on a deeper level, universally–for bringing out the best in our humanness.
Today, I find myself frequently with “the shoe on the other foot.” Sometimes I am mentoring sixth graders in teamwork, communication, leadership, and their own unique abilities. I make sure to let them know in many ways, I believe in you.
Other times, I am advocating and championing for the next generation of young firefighter hopefuls, women and men alike, who will continue to grow and evolve the changing face of the fire service.
Mentors and advocates are game changers. When we take the time to help each other, see one another’s potential, and speak up for each other, we are uplifting the very essence of humanity.
Can you mentor someone or advocate for someone, today, who could use your voice?
I believe mentors and advocates can change the world.