8 tips for surviving on a firefighter paycheck in the age of crushing inflation

From appearance fees to mobile car washes, there are ways (albeit some ridiculous) to earn a bit of cash for the station coffer


Being a firefighter is an awesome job, there is no doubt. I sometimes tell people that I can’t believe I get paid to do this job. But let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of numerals on that paycheck. This means we find ourselves bemoaning how little we get paid, especially when we’re short on funds for groceries or gas.

Some days, the only thing that keeps me going is seeing those poor (literally and figuratively!) EMS folks on medical calls, and knowing they are suffering even more than I am. Hey, misery always loves company, right? I hear them talking about ramen all the time; makes me sad. But seriously, groceries are expensive, and it’s getting harder to all pitch in for the super-basic shift meals of roasted brussels sprouts, steak and salad.

Let’s consider a few ridiculous (and a few not-so-ridiculous) ways we can make a little extra money to help curb the impact of inflation.

It IS possible to move your turnout gear to another station on a Honda Ruckus. It’s not easy, but it’s doable.
It IS possible to move your turnout gear to another station on a Honda Ruckus. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. (Photo/Andy Beck)

1. Appearance fees

Everyone love firefighters, right? Of course they do, and we can capitalize on this. Start a service to have a firefighter come to birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, real estate open houses, rummage sales, you get the idea. You can just grab your gear and act like yourself. Remember, no one will know if the stories you tell are true or not.

2. Fill swimming pools

Have you ever had a member of the public call and ask if you can fill a swimming pool? I know I have and had to explain nicely that we don’t provide that service. But maybe we could! I mean, we could consider it training on using the master stream device. Focusing on water supply is always a good training for the new folks, and if it just happened to be at an address with an empty pool, and a little water ended up in said pool, what would that really hurt? I bet the homeowner would be willing to tip, and maybe it could even tie-in with a firefighter appearance at a party (see above).

3. Rent out a room, at the station or your house

Our friends over at EMS1 had a great idea: Rent a room out to the new firefighter on an opposite shift as you. You will never have to put up with them, and they can pay a chunk of your rent or mortgage. Even better, somehow convince them they have to pay rent when they are a probie, and if they just want to pay you, that’s fine.

4. Donate plasma

This one is a more serious option, and depending on the options in your area, could provide a little extra cash for some of the meals at the station. Just make sure to follow the donation center’s recommendation for fluid intake, and make your appoint on a day off so you can recover before another shift.

5. Ditch your gym membership; use gym equipment instead

Do you pay for a gym membership? Consider whether you really need it. After all, I’ll bet you have some weights and maybe even cardio equipment at the station. Does your agency allow members to use that equipment even on off days? Many agencies do, and it might be a way to both eliminate your gym membership and stay in shape. Plus, think of all the heckling you can get in chirping at the other shifts while you watch them as you work out.

6. Start a mobile or station car wash  

Teenagers have been doing car wash fundraisers for years. Why not us? You can have people pull right by the station, and you can get some hose training or aerial apparatus training washing down some dirty cars. You might even be able to get a couple cars at the same time. Just make sure folks roll their windows up, and try not to blast off any body panels.

7. Become an instructor

Do you have a fire academy or tech school in your area? If so, check out opportunities to teach or at least help with trainings. It’s a great way to give back and brush up on your skills while making a little extra money. Plus, recruits will look up to you (and they will have no idea how pathetic your finances really are). Whatever you do, don’t tell them; you’ll scare them off, and we need them to stick around.

8. Sell your car and buy a scooter

Do you have a nice truck or car? Of course you do, we’re firefighters. What if I told you your ride could go for top dollar right now? It can, and you could buy a scooter for a fraction of the selling price of that sweet truck you love so much. You can pocket the difference and save tons of money on cash. I can also assure you that it’s possible to move your turnout gear to another station on a Honda Ruckus. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. (Note: This option really works best for firefighters in warmer climates. Moving turnouts in the snow is a no-go.)

Find the humor in what we do

In all seriousness, while we have all likely noticed a pinch in our pocketbook lately, sometimes the best thing to do is find the humor around the kitchen table during a great supper at the station – and maybe even invite the EMS crew.

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