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 Fireman 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.
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.
The Department will review your background and speak to you about your plans to become a volunteer. After being accepted, you will complete training programs before becoming an official Volunteer Firefighter.
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.
Being a volunteer 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).
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.
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.
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 realize it isn’t a good fit.
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 fireman ( You won’t be driving a firetruck with a DUI).
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.
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.
Each Department will have their own training requirements.
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!
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.
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.
If you are interested in earning an income, Wildland Firefighters work seasonally. Could be a good option for some people!
What if I’m in High School? Can I still Volunteer?
Please Do! 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?
Not quite. 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 get a few calls a week.
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.
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. And she lived, from an accident that left her disabled, because of the training that these brave men and women had.
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!