Post Preview: Learn how to become a Volunteer Firefighter. Get a brief view of the education and training requirements to see if being a Volunteer Firefighter is right for you.
Volunteer Firefighting is so important to many communities across the United States. When time is literally the only thing between life and death, seconds matter.
Firefighting is one of the only careers that still depends heavily on volunteers.
Many communities are in areas that can take 15-30 minutes for a Career Firefighter to show up, which is why volunteer’s are still a needed part of a communities emergency action plan.
They are essential to the safety of the people.
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The Basics of a Volunteer Firefighter
While every station has some different criteria, there are many steps that are the same across the nation.
Generally you will want to have be in good health and physically able to do the demands of the job- because trust me- it’s not a walk in the park.
Yes, it’s rewarding, but it’s intense. You’ll be asked to do things you didn’t think were possible at all hours of the day and night.
Once you’re ready physically and have the desire, you’ll need to find a local volunteer department.
The Department will review your background and speak to you about your plans to become a volunteer.
If they accept you, you will complete training programs before becoming an official Volunteer Firefighter. These programs vary by state and the department would be able to tell you more. Some places want you to be fully licensed and other’s have more leniency.
The Steps to become a Volunteer Firefighter
Step 1: Make the Decision to Volunteer.
You wont really know what you’ve gotten yourself into until you’ve been on the job for a few months, but I can assure you that it’s very unlike the TV shows you may have watched.
like widely different. Less blazing fires and more vehicle accidents and ‘minor’ calls.
Being a volunteer also means putting your opinions and needs to the side to help others- so you will be in situations that many find hard or difficult (dealing with danger, dealing with death, having to make hard decisions).
This is not for someone that doesn’t feel comfortable making decisions.
And this isn’t me discouraging you. In fact, We want and need more volunteers- just know that it isn’t like serving cake at a nursing home.
There is a lot more to being a volunteer than some realize and you need to watch some videos and read some blogs before you dedicate the time to becoming a volunteer.
You could literally be the difference between life and death for someone and this is a really important decision.
Step 2: Once you’ve committed to being a volunteer firefighter, you need to contact your local fire service agency.
You can call or visit your local volunteer department to ask about openings and specific requirements. There you can talk to other firefighters and officers to get a feel for the position.
They can explain to you what’s required physically and mentally (hopefully) and give you a full rundown of what it’s like to be a firefighter!
ohhh and many of the volunteer stations will offer ride alongs so that you can get a feel for the job. I recommend this wherever it is offered.
Some people are thrilled to be a volunteer fireman, others quickly realize it isn’t a good fit. If you love the ride and the truck and serving people- you might just be a firefighter!!!
Step 3: After all the talking, apply to be a volunteer Firefighter
Once you’ve made the commitment and spoken with the Fire Station, decide if this is the spot for you and apply!
This could be the point that you go back to Step 2 and look for other stations as well. It’s very important to get a good fit as a volunteer, so don’t discount looking at all of your options.
After you’ve applied you will go through a screening process. This could be similar to a job interview, where you speak with someone in management and get a physical from your doctor.
The Station could also look at your records to make sure that you don’t have anything that would interfere with you being a firefighter ( You won’t be driving a firetruck with a DUI).
Plus you’ll need to meet some minimum age requirements and maybe some education too.
Depending on the department you will have other qualifications as well. These can include (but not always) a high school diploma, a valid drivers license, and living within the Department’s Jurisdiction.
Many stations also want volunteers that have their EMT license, so that they can assist with basic medical calls.
Step 4: Get training!
This is the most rewarding part! It’s also the hardest. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Training to be a firefighter is a serious undertaking because you have to think about other people. When it comes to saving your life, or the life of someone else, you can never train enough!
****Everyone that is a volunteer firefighter will need to take a 110-hour NFPA certified course.
BUT Each Department will have their own training requirements and these can be very different. Some want you to do weeks of training, other’s want you to learn as you go.
No matter what- you are responsible for your training! Please remember this and take accountability to study, learn and train as you grow in the fire service.
This youtube video provides some insight into the training you would be doing as a firefighter.
There are also many free and paid courses online that you can take to further your knowledge and skill set. They even have books on Amazon.
Typically, Departments will have an outline for physical training, so make sure you stay current on your fitness routine!
They will also cover things like proper equipment use, auto accidents, structure fires and basic medical care in classroom and hands on learning. If you’d like a headstart you can check out this book on Kindle Amazon, that covers all the basics of Firefighting.
Examples of specific training could include things like:
Learning proper use of rescue tools like a halligan, ax, k12 saw, and other extrication equipment.
Emergency rescue procedures.
Proper use of PPE and turnout gear
Hazardous material recognition and procedures
Structure Fire Attack
Fire truck/Fire Apparatus Operation
Firefighters wear many hats, which is part of the reason that volunteer firefighting is so important! It can also lead to a career in firefighting, as many people get a leg up because they were volunteers first.
Volunteer Firefighter FAQ
But I have so many other questions!
Is being a volunteer worth it?
Absolutely! In fact, I wrote an entire post on the benefits of volunteering. It could be the most important thing you ever do in your life- you never know if you will be in the right place at the right time to save a life.
Do I have to go to school?
No, Volunteer Firefighters do not have to go to school.
However, it is encouraged for firefighters to take the job seriously. For many people, that means that they will go to training courses, some are only a day and some are several weeks.
It’s also important to consider that the majority of calls are medical calls.
Many departments encourage you to get your basic EMT license, which can be anywhere from 6-30 weeks depending on the state requirements. This allows you to provide basic medical care to someone when they are injured.
Almost all departments require you to know CPR and basic ‘stop the bleed’ training no matter what education you have. Further things could be CPR for pediatrics, certifications for tricky rescues, and OSHA (or other) safety certifications.
Can I get paid?
YES/KINDA! There are many Volunteer Departments that offer incentives. These can range from pay per call, to special events, to payment for training requirements.
Some other departments offer retirement pension plans. Almost all of the departments are involved in discount program, where you can receive a percentage off the purchase of many products.
Many offer clothing/gear for free too. Lastly, some departments and cities offer a ‘bonus’ of sorts when the year has gone well with calls.
If you are interested in earning a serious income, Wildland Firefighters work seasonally. Getting your red card could open a lot of doors for income- just know that the tours are longer (weeks to months with days off scattered in between) Could be a good option for some people that only want to work heavily for a few months out of the year.
What if I’m in High School? Can I still Volunteer?
You should try lots of careers in high school and firefighter is so rewarding!
There is a program for “Junior Firefighters” who don’t meet the traditional age requirements. There are over 2500 programs across the US. Check out NVFC National Junior Firefighter for more information.
Will I work 40 hours a week?
Typical volunteer call volume ranges from once a day to several times a day- most of the incidents are minor.
Each station has a system for who is “on call”, so those are the volunteers that would be responding to the call.
Many volunteers across the US only get a few calls a week.
Plus you can take off time just like a regular job. In many cases, volunteers fill the ‘gap’ and in rural areas that aren’t always needed every day.
The important thing is making sure that you are signed up, trained, and ready to go where there is that serious emergency- that’s when the seconds count!
My husband made the decision to become a firefighter a few days after his mom was saved from a life and death situation.
She was in an auto accident, and it took them 45 minutes to extricate her, then transport her by ambulance another 15 minutes to the nearest hospital.
The miracle is that she lived- and he swore from that day on that he would go into Fire/EMS. all because of the training that these brave men and women had- they truly made the difference.
When you become a volunteer firefighter, you are doing one of the most selfless jobs. You are not paid because you are worthless, you are priceless. This country was founded on volunteers, it is a great thing to do for yourself and your community!
I hope you found these steps helpful. Please reach out if I can provide any help or more information. I also love to hear from firefighters in all stages of their journey, so drop a comment or shoot me a PM!