How to become a Volunteer Firefighter

Introduction

Becoming a volunteer firefighter is a great way to serve your community and a personally rewarding experience. Over 70% of fire departments in the United States are staffed entirely by volunteers and over 90% of fire departments have volunteer firefighters. This means that if you are ready for the commitment of becoming volunteer firefighter, there's are fire departments that needs your help.

Before you pick up the phone and ask to become a volunteer, you need to know what you are signing up for. 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 effort as well as a responsibility to your community and fellow firefighters.

All volunteers firefighters are required to attend a minimum initial 110 hour of training, you will attend monthly meetings/trainings, and respond to incidents at all hours of the day (and night). Firefighting is not just the action packed excitement of putting out a fire. It is just as important to make sure everything is clean, put away, restocked, running smoothly, and ready for the next incident or fire call.

Steps to becoming a firefighter

  1. If you're thinking about joining a volunteer fire service, make sure you're really ready to join. Please, give this some serious thought. Being a volunteer firefighter is like being part of a big family, who looks out for each other. If you're an individual and want to be independent, 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 shows some of the challenges, rewards and the lifestyle of being a volunteer firefighter.



  2. If you are ready, determine which fire departments in your area are accepting volunteers.

    Visit FireDepartment.net/directory and navigate to find the fire departments in your area. There are two ways to determine if a fire department is or may be accepting volunteers. The first way is to look in the "Volunteer Recruiter" section of a fire department's profile, You will see one of three messages:
    • "We are Looking for Volunteers", accompanied by the volunteer recruiter information entered by this fire department.
    • "We are not accepting volunteer applications at this time". This means that this fire department is fully staffed and not looking for more volunteers. But, check back periodically. This fire department may only open it's volunteer recruitment for a small window of time each year.
    • "This fire department has not submitted volunteer recruitment information". This means this fire department has either not contributed information to FireDepartment.net or has not filled out this section of the profile.

      Don't give up, if volunteer recruitment information was not submitted.
      If a fire department has not submitted volunteer recruitment information to FireDepartment.net, they may still have a volunteer program and you will want to give them a call to ask if they are accepting volunteers.

      To find out, look at the "fire Department type" in the "Fire Department Statistics" section of their FireDepartment.net profile. There are four types of fire department (Career, Mostly Career, Mostly Volunteer, and Volunteer). All fire departments except the "Career" fire departments have a volunteer firefighter program. So, if the fire department is not "Career", add them to the list of fire departments you plan to call.

      When you do speak to this fire department, please tell them about FireDepartment.net's free service, designed to help them share information with the community and find new volunteers.

  3. Make the call. Have a pen and paper ready to take notes. Call the fire department headquarters non-emergency number (Do Not Call 911), introduce yourself, tell them you're interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, and ask to talk to the person who handles volunteer recruitment. When you talk to the recruitment person, introduce yourself again, tell them you're interested in being a volunteer, and ask about the volunteer program. Then, if all still sounds good, ask if they have a ride along program, and if you can come down to meet the others at the fire department. Before you apply or commit to becoming part of the firefighting "family", it is a really good idea to determine if you fit in with those you'll be working with. Many fire departments also have regular volunteer meetings or volunteer recruitment events (open to the public) that can be a great ways to introduce yourself to local firefighters/administrators and meet the men and women at the department.

  4. Complete an application. Each fire department has their own minimum set of requirements for volunteer firefighters. Some fire department requirements are stricter than others. Typically, you must be 18 years old, possess a valid drivers license, live within a certain distance of the fire station, and pass a minimum physical fitness test. Other requirements may include a background check, possession of first aid training certificates, community involvement, or successful completion of fire training classes. The application enables a fire department to ensure they find the best people to join.

    Do not be discouraged if you don't get chosen after submitting one application. 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. While some rural fire departments are lucky to get one or two applicants a year, some large cities or college towns can get a hundred applicants when they put out an announcement. If you really want to become a volunteer firefighter, apply at each of your local fire departments, work to improve yourself by emulating the qualities needed to be a great firefighter, learn new skills, and work to participate in your community in other ways. Then, the next time you apply, you'll have a better chance.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

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 role. While you may see national programs like Fire Corps, 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. Just contact your local fire department using the same firefighter instructions outlined above.

Some common non-emergency needs 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

VolunteerFD.org
National Volunteer Fire Council
Fire in You
Fire Department Statistics
Women in fire and emergency services
Junior Firefighter Program