Mentorship program at Pflugerville Fire Department prepares cadets for careers

Inspired by the unofficial mentors they had early in their careers, six firefighters in the Pflugerville Fire Department have created a mentorship program to guide cadets as they begin theirs.

While in the program, cadets sit in on monthly sessions with one of the six mentors to discuss issues that will better prepare them for life as a firefighter. Those issues can range from mental health to the tough situations they may see while on a call.

Courtney Hiatt, Michael Hernandez and Robert Mango are part of the Pflugerville Fire Department's mentorship program that helps cadets learn, grow and develop.
Courtney Hiatt, Michael Hernandez and Robert Mango are part of the Pflugerville Fire Department's mentorship program that helps cadets learn, grow and develop.

Launched in May 2022, the department's in-house cadet program is a free six-month training series offering residents a way to become certified Texas firefighters and emergency medical technicians. Cadets who graduate have the opportunity to become full-time employees.

More: Pflugerville Fire Department to graduate first class of civilian firefighters/EMTs

Michael Hernandez, a firefighter-paramedic who helped to start the mentorship program in October 2022, said the idea was to recreate the experience he had while younger, but on a larger, more visible scale.

"We thought if we have an actual group, we can hopefully reach them all with really good advice," he said. "Hopefully we will be able to see the outcome, if it's actually working, in the next couple of years, but so far it seems to be pretty good."

Robert Mango, who graduated from the cadet academy in April, said the program helped him bridge the gap between the training environment and a 24-hour shift. He said the mentorship gave him a better understanding of daily life in a fire station.

Mango said having someone to go to who wasn't a higher-ranking official in the class to ask simple questions about station etiquette or what to pack made his transition easier and better prepared for life at the station.

"It helped really relieve a lot of the anxiety from going to the classroom environment to actually being a firefighter," he said.

Courtney Hiatt, who graduated from the cadet academy in April, said hearing how firefighters dealt with their mental health was extremely helpful. She said having dedicated mentors also provided a level of comfort for her first day.

"It was a nice security blanket going into a shift because you are leaving everyone you've been with for six months and you are on your own," Hiatt said. "But it was nice knowing someone that would be there for you through that transition."

After cadets graduate, they are still able to reach out to their mentor as they need. Hernandez said he hopes those who go through the program become mentors for new cadet classes.

Fire Chief Nick Perkins, who approved the program, said it will help recruit and retain firefighters and paramedics.

"The shared experience our mentors provide allows our cadets the opportunity to learn, grow and develop within their roles based on our culture and values," Perkins said. "Providing these internal benefits to our staff allows us to show up for our community in a way that will continue to save lives."

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Pflugerville Fire Department mentor program prepares cadets for career