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How to become a Volunteer Firefighter

Volunteering is a rewarding way to get involved in your community. As a volunteer firefighter, you'll meet new people, gain new skills, gain experience that can help you develop your resume and help your neighbors when the need it most. Over 70% of fire departments in the United States are staffed entirely by volunteers, over 90% of fire departments have volunteer firefighters and most fire departments struggle to find enough volunteers. This means that if you are ready for the commitment of becoming a volunteer firefighter, there are fire departments that need your help.

Are You Ready to Become a Volunteer Firefighter?

Please, give this some serious thought before submitting a volunteer application. Volunteer fire departments run on tight budgets and can't afford to put you through an extensive training, to have you not show up or quit after a couple of fire calls. Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a commitment of your time and work as well as a responsibility to your community and fellow firefighters. Being a volunteer firefighter is also like being part of a big family, who looks out for each other. If you're an individual and want to do your own thing, fire-fighting may not be the place for you. As a firefighter, you depend on your fellow firefighters and they have to be able to depend on you. Below are some great videos that show some of the challenges, rewards and the lifestyle of being a volunteer firefighter.

What do others say about being a volunteer firefighter (recruitment videos)?

     

What are the minimum requirements I need to meet to be a volunteer firefighter?

Requirements vary depending on the fire department to which you apply. Typical requirements include:

  • Minimum age of 18 years (some fire departments have junior firefighter programs).
  • Valid driver's license.
  • Ability to perform physical firefighting and rescue tasks in adverse conditions.
  • Ability to work cooperatively with other firefighters and supervisors.
  • Ability to follow verbal and written instructions.
  • Ability to keep calm and work effectively under stressful conditions.
  • Complete 110 hours of initial training.
  • Attend monthly meetings and/or training.
  • Be available to respond to incidents at all hours of the day (and night) for a set number of hours each month. 

Ask the volunteer recruiter about requirements to ensure you're comfortable with the expectations.

Do volunteer firefighters get paid?

There are many different volunteer programs. Most volunteer fire departments are purely volunteer and firefighters do not get paid. But, there are a few exceptions. Some fire departments in large cities or fire departments who receive recruitment/retention grants offer volunteers “pay-per-call”. This means the fire department pays either a flat fee for each call or pays for the time you spend at an incident. Many volunteer fire departments pay for all or part of your training.

What are the benefits of becoming a Volunteer firefighter?

There are many intangible benefits to becoming a volunteer firefighter. Helping your community and neighbors when they are in need, making friends, learning new skills, building up your resume, etc and these are the most common motivation for becoming a volunteer firefighter. Many fire departments, government programs and local businesses offer some tangible benefits too. These benefits may include:

  • Tax deductions.
  • Pay-per-call (not common).
  • Reimbursement for training.
  • Uniform allowance.
  • Retail discounts.
  • Subsidized insurance.
  • Tuition reimbursement.

  • Dorm style housing for students.

Which fire departments are accepting volunteer firefighter applications?

This can be a little tricky to figure out. But, here are a few options:

  • Check FireDepartment.net to see if your fire department uses the free volunteer firefighter application, ~20% of all volunteer fire departments in the united states use firedepartment.net’s free service to get online and most volunteer fire departments provide volunteer recruitment info.

    Visit FireDepartment.net/directory and navigate to find the fire departments in your area and scroll down to the volunteer section. 

    Don't give up, if volunteer recruitment information has not been submitted by your fire department. They may still be looking for volunteer firefighters. It’s still a good idea to give them a call to ask if they are accepting volunteers.

  • Nevada Volunteer firefighter applications:
    The Nevada Fire Chiefs Association contracts with firedepartment.net for volunteer recruitment and has their own online volunteer firefighter application. 

  • Google local fire departments to determine who’s seeking volunteer firefighters.
    Map (https://www.google.com/maps/search/fire+station)
    Web (https://www.google.com/search?q=fire+departments+near+me)

    When searching the web, you’ll have to visit each fire dept’s website and look around for volunteer recruitment info. This takes much more time, but may be worth it if you find an opportunity to volunteer.

Fire Departments:

Sign up to firedepartment.net (a free service) to add/update your fire department and add a free volunteer firefighter application.

What should I say when calling a fire department about becoming a volunteer firefighter?

Have a pen and paper ready to take notes. Call the fire department headquarters non-emergency number (Do Not Call 911), introduce yourself (“my name is _______ _______, I live in ___________. Can I talk to someone about becoming a volunteer firefighter?”). 

When you talk to the recruiter, introduce yourself again, tell them why you're interested in being a volunteer, and ask about the volunteer program. If you like what you hear, ask if they have a ride along program, and if there’s an opportunity to meet the people you’ll be working with if you become a volunteer. 

Questions to ask a volunteer recruiter:

  • Do you have a ride along program?
  • Are there opportunities for me to meet others who work at the fire department prior to committing to become a volunteer firefighter?
  • When will the next volunteer training start?
  • Does the fire department pay for training?
  • What expenses do I have to cover as a volunteer?

Before you commit to becoming part of the fire department, it is a really good idea to determine if you fit in with those you'll be working with. Many fire departments have regular volunteer meetings or volunteer recruitment events that can be a great way to introduce yourself and get a feel for how the fire department operates.

Complete a volunteer firefighter application. 

Take your time and fill out the application with the same care you would when applying for a paid position. It is well known that volunteering as a firefighter is a great way to get into the professional fire service and this can make some fire departments very competitive. Large cities, fire departments with great training programs and college towns (with volunteer housing) can get dozens (sometimes hundreds) of applicants a year. 

  • The interview process: You may not realize, but the interview process started the first time you contacted the fire department. Your first impression makes a huge impact! If you are personable, professional and motivated, these are the qualities most volunteer fire departments are looking for. When you are talking to anyone at the fire department, relax, be yourself, be honest, and be the person other firefighters can depend on in the middle of an emergency.

  • The training program: As mentioned above, most fire departments require a minimum of 110 hours of training before working as a firefighter. However, at the end of your initial training, you still have a lot to learn and some things can only be learned through experience. When you start as a firefighter, you'll be assigned to work with a more experienced firefighter to help instruct the many things you didn't learn in the initial training. Even 30 year veteran firefighters see something new almost every day!

Do not be discouraged if you don't get chosen after submitting an application.

If you really want to become a volunteer firefighter, apply at each of your local fire departments, keep applying and work to improve yourself (and your resume) by emulating the qualities needed to be a great firefighter. Learn new skills you can add to your resume and volunteer/participate in your community in other ways. Then, the next time you apply, you'll have a better chance.

Other ways to help your local fire department

Non-emergency volunteers. Many fire departments have opportunities for community members who want to help in a non-emergency tasks. Most local fire departments do not list this kind of need on their website. Depending on what skills you have to offer, many fire departments will be interested in non-emergency assistance. The easiest way to find out is to ask. Try looking up your fire department's contact info and offer your assistance.

Some common non-emergency tasks include:

  • Assisting with a volunteer recruitment program
  • Fund-raising activities
  • Community outreach, sharing public safety information, and education
  • Assistance for families after a fire or natural disaster.

Other Volunteer Firefighter resources

Women in fire and emergency services

Junior Firefighter Program