A question posted recently on Quora asked, “What should I know about becoming a volunteer firefighter?” Mick Mayers, a chief fire officer and instructor-trainer, gave his opinion on the topic below. Check it out and add your own thoughts in the comments.
Regardless of whether you are choosing to get into a career as a firefighter or joining the ranks of the 800,000 American volunteer firefighters, the fire service is an incredible community. Many people just see firefighting from the aspect of responding to fires on big, shiny fire engines, rescuing people from burning buildings. The truth is that while those things happen occasionally, the job for both career and volunteer personnel is more about the preparation for those events than the responding to them.
Firefighters have a responsibility to not just fight fires, but to take care of the tools, equipment, apparatus, and the stations. Whether the funding comes from the municipality or strictly by donation, we are stewards of those things the community has entrusted us with to do our job. We have a responsibility to take care of them like they were our own, or as I like to say, better than our own.
In volunteer departments, often there will be in addition to the duty days, assigned training sessions, apparatus and station sessions, and even fund raising. Between all these moments there is also a lot of bonding with the team, because since our lives are literally in our teammates' hands, theirs are likewise in ours, and there must be a certain amount of trust developed, in that you know what you are doing and that you have each others' backs.
If you like channeling your inner "MacGuyver," the fire service is an ideal place to do so. We not only run to fires, but to any other type of emergency that the public needs to be taken care of. When people run out of options, they call the fire department. In the 30-plus years I have been doing this, I have wrangled out of control machines, fixed pipes, searched for a dolphin in a storm sewer (peope didn't believe us when we said the noise coming from down there couldn't be a dolphin and it wasn't; it was a frog). My team has extricated a sea turtle from a swimming pool and rescued a goat that jumped off the side of a bridge. If there is a problem and nobody can quite figure out what to do, people just call the fire department.
The flip side is that you spend holidays and weekends away from your family, and if you have been up running calls all night, the next morning isn't anything to celebrate. I have seen horrible, horrible things ranging from our response to Hurricane Katrina, to abused children and the elderly, to pillars of the community reduced to tears over the loss of their home from fire. I have been physically attacked, and just last night even, verbally attacked. You have to maintain the "neutral operating face," not take it personally, and do the job.
I began my career as a volunteer in 1980 and remained a volunteer firefighter until 1993, while also being a career firefighter from 1982 until today. I can't imagine doing anything else. But it isn't for everybody; you have to put the team before yourself. Someone who is in it for the "bells and smells" won't fit in well with a team that is built on "all for one and one for all." But regardless of your choice, I wish you good luck.
About the author
"The Question" section brings together user-generated articles from our Facebook page based on questions we pose to our followers, as well as some of the best content we find on Quora, a question-and-answer website created, edited and organized by its community of users who are often experts in their field. The site aggregates questions and answers for a range of topics, including public safety. The questions and answers featured here on FR1 are posted directly from Quora, and the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of FR1.
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Chuck WethertonMonday, November 04, 2013 8:08:58 PM35 years ago In 1978 I started as a volunteer so I clearly know where this author is coming from. So many kids now a days think being a firefighter is the bells and smells also getting face time on TV sad to say but if this is what you think a firefighter is or if your a glory hound please do us all a favor. Stay at home watching Chicago fire. OK? We have enough higher ups looking for the flood lights to last a lifetime.
Joyce WethertonMonday, November 04, 2013 8:24:26 PMI couldn't agree more. Need more volunteers that want to do the job, yes I said job. Not just running to calls but taking care of everything at the station and supporting the meaning of Volunteer. With limited funding we need more people who help fund raising to help support the volunteer fire departments. Before volunteering, visit a local station to see what is involved before you choose to do this. Be there for the part that doesn't include putting the wet stuff on the red stuff, everything about being a volunteer firefighter is important.