How do I become a volunteer firefighter?

Whether you're an aspiring firefighter or just looking to give back, nearly everyone can be involved with the fire service

By FireRescue1 Staff

If you're looking to learn new skills and perform a valuable service for your community, consider volunteering with a local fire department.

Whether you're an aspiring firefighter or just someone looking to give back in their free time, nearly anyone can give back to the fire service.

Why does the fire service need volunteers?

In many of our nation’s more rural areas, the call volume is so low that it’s not profitable to fund a full-time firefighting staff. In these towns, fire coverage is a volunteer service provided by neighbors and community members. According to NFPA statistics, about one-third of the U.S. population depends on all-volunteer fire departments for coverage. 

Do volunteer firefighters get paid? Depending on where you are, you might receive a small (less than $15) stipend for each shift you take. You may also get a tax rebate or get paid on a per-call basis, but it’s definitely a volunteer position and not a viable full-time job.

Of course, being a volunteer may give you the experience and references you need to become a full-time firefighter.

Where do I start as a volunteer firefighter?

Since not all departments use volunteer firefighters, especially if you live in a metropolitan area. You might have to do some driving in order to take shifts at one that does.

You can probably email your volunteer department or call them to speak with the station’s officer. Tell them that you’re interested in volunteering, and they’ll fill you in on the next steps. You may also be able to schedule a ride-along with the department to see if you’ll be a good fit with the team.

What are the requirements to be a volunteer firefighter?

There’s usually an application process that will ask for your basic contact info, as well past work history and character references. You may also have to share information about your background including your criminal history and past alcohol and drug use.

You’ll also have to undergo an NFPA-approved fire academy course that’ll teach you about being a firefighter. That means learning about techniques like fire suppression and vehicle extrication, with some hands-on learning involving bunker gear and live fires. Fire academy can be physically difficult, but also really fun.

I have a full-time job but I still want to be involved in the fire service.

There are other ways to contribute besides becoming a full-fledged volunteer firefighter.

Check to see if your town has a Citizen’s Fire Academy. Basically, you’ll meet once a week learning about your local fire service’s organization and skills. You’ll probably wear bunker gear, climb a ladder, and, yes, get to slide down a fire station pole. Participants may also be able to sign out for ride outs with the fire department, giving you an opportunity to see your firefighters in action.

There may also be fundraising opportunities or a citizen’s group that supports local firefighters in your area. Regardless of how you choose to volunteer your time with a fire department, it’s an incredibly rewarding experience that brings a lot to your community.

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