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5 reasons to become a volunteer firefighter

Why did you decide to volunteer?

upper macungie twp fire department.jpg

A lot of volunteers do this job for one reason alone: Helping out neighbors is just a fundamentally decent thing to do.

Photo/Upper MaCungie Township Station 56

By Mikey Heinrich

Just to establish at the outset — volunteer firefighters are firefighters, full stop. It isn’t a half measure, and it’s not a route you go just because you aren’t dedicated enough to do it full-time. They do the same job and face the same challenges. They just also do other stuff to pay the rent, mortgage, what have you — it’s not about judging.

That said, if you’re going to spend a fair amount of your time doing the job anyway, why aren’t you doing it for your regular paycheck? Well, here are some reasons why:

1. Full-time firefighter positions can be difficult to get

Assuming that the volunteer in question actually wants to be a firefighter full-time (and that’s a big assumption), positions can be difficult to come by. Cities hire certain numbers of recruits at certain times, and there can be a fair amount of time between those certain times if there’s a hiring freeze on. Joining your local volunteer department can be a great way to get some training and experience and make yourself a more desirable candidate the next time they are recruiting. Most volunteer departments have at least two or three members that either are applying to full-time departments or are already on full-time departments.

2. The empty nest recruit

The kids are grown and off to college, but you’re by no means “over the hill” yet. A lot of parents who suddenly find themselves with a lot of free time find meaning in their lives by joining the volunteer department. They’re perfectly happy with the day job they already have, but by giving their time to the community through volunteer firefighting, they find a whole new “post-kid” chapter in their lives.

3. Strong communities have citizens that form strong connections

It’s not at all uncommon for a volunteer department to have a solid core of firefighters who’ve known each other since the first day they stepped into kindergarten. They were on one another’s pee-wee baseball teams and played three different sports with each other through high school. After high school, college, whatever, a good chunk of the team stayed together and joined the department. It works out well, since they’ve been working as a team for as long as they can remember anyway.

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4. It’s a great way to make a new city a home

Sort of the opposite of the previous entry, this is the man or woman that moves into the community from somewhere else and finds volunteer firefighting as a way to make a tangible commitment to their new neighborhood. They didn’t grow up dreaming about driving the big red truck, they’re there to give back to the community that’s welcoming them in.

5. They’re just a decent human being who wants to help people

There are plenty of volunteer firefighters out there who are there for one reason and one reason alone — because giving your free time to help out neighbors who are experiencing a traumatic event is just a fundamentally decent thing to do, and not something you should have to explain or apologize for.

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About the Author

Mikey Heinrich is a firefighter and public TV database wrangler at Twin Cities Public Television. He contributed to FireRescue1 through Uniform Stories.

This article, originally published October 14, 2016, has been updated.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.