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How To Become a Volunteer Firefighter – Serving The Community

So you’d like to know how to become a volunteer firefighter? Make no mistake – the work and duties of a volunteer fireman can be just as demanding as those of a professional firefighter; you’re just as likely to face life and death situations, you need to be in great physical shape and undergo a decent amount of training. Anyone wanting to become a volunteer firefighter should relize that it’s not a joke nor a fun activity you can do just to kill some time; it’s a very serious responsibility, and many a person’s life will depend on your actions as a volunteer firefighter.

While volunteer firefighters typically work for free, some fire departments will provide compensation, which according to American law cannot be hire than 20% of what a professional firefighter would have received for the same fire-related work performed.

How To Locate Fire Departments Looking For Volunteer Firefighters?

The best way is to use this US Fire Department Finder. Select a state and browse througha list of all fire departments located there. After clicking the name of a department you will see their contact details, including information on whether they accept volunteer firefighters, as well as how many volunteers are currently working there.

What Are The Requirements To Become a Volunteer Firefighter?

Requirements for being accepted as a volunteer can vary significantly from fire department to another; the only way to figure out what those requirements are is to contact your department of choice and ask – there is no way around this. However, there are certain requirements that are so common that you can expect to run into them at pretty much any department:

  • Must be of age (18 or 21 years, depending on the state); sometimes 16 year volunteer firefighters are accepted, as long as consent is provided by the parents or legal guardians.
  • Usually must have a high school diploma, unless 16 year old volunteers are accepted (see above).
  • Should have a valid driver’s license, which often must be issued in the fire department’s state.
  • Sometimes, you might need to be a resident of the region where the department is located.

There might be some other requirements as well, for example in relation to your eye vision, or BMI (weight-to-height-ratio), though these are less often seen.

Tests To Become a Volunteer Firefighter

After you meet the minimum requirements for becoming a volunteer firefighter as set forth by the state and fire department, you will need to undergo:

    • A written exam, usually aimed at checking your basic math skills, ability to read maps, basic knowledge of the fire service, etc.
    • A live interview, where the department’s chiefs will want to get to know you and your goals as a volunteer firefighter.
    • A stringent background check (felony convictions will disqualify you), followed by a drug test

Physical Testing

You’ll also need to undergo a physical conditioning evaluation exam. Depending on the fire department, this might either be the CPAT (Candidate Physical Abilities Test), or some other type of test. You should expect to perform typical firefighting duties, under tight time constraints. Expect for example to lift 30-40 lbs. worth of equipment and carry it a few dozen yards; to manually raise a very heavy ladder and gain access to a window; to crawl through tight spaces, to drag a 180 lbs. dummy in a mock rescue operation; to to drag a heavy hose, and so on. You will not be admitted to the later stages of volunteer firefighter preparation before you can successfully pass your physical tests.

In-Station Training

As the name implies, this is conducted directly inside the station, with the goal of teaching you the inner workings of the fire station and familiarizing you and other volunteers with the day-to-day activities at the station and how to go about them. This usually doesn’t take long – 10 to 15 hours total is what you should expect.

Emergency Vehicle Operators Course

Also known as “EVOC” for short, this course will teach you how to operate firefighting apparatus (fire truck/engine), how to properly maneuveur when speeding towards an emergency scene, how and where to park, and how to use the controls inside the apparatus. You will also be informed about the laws applicable in your state as it pertrains to driving fire apparatus. This course is usually short-lasting, maybe 10 hours or so in total – and that includes training AND in-station maneuvering with the fire apparatus. Many volunteer firefighters will need to undergo this course, not all though.

EMT-B Class

EMT Basic training might also be required; perhaps not for all volunteers, and not in all fire departments, but it’s very common. The amount of training required for a volunteer to get his or her EMT-B certification varies from state to state; expect it to last around 100 to 200 hours in most cases. Some fire departments will have dedicated EMT volunteers, while other departments will require all of their volunteer firefighters to have an EMT certification.

Firefighter Training

Some sort of firefighter training is always required from anyone wanting to become a volunteer firefighter. The extent of training you’ll need to go through varies significantly from state to state and from department to another; it may be as short as 30-50 hours, or it may last as long as 600 hours. During training you will learn about the evolution of fire service ladders (mechanical and manual), how to use them, how to conduct a search and rescue, handling hazardous materials and chemicals, tying knots, handling ropes and hoses, proper suppression of fires and handling other emergency services. You will not become an operation volunteer before undergoing some sort of training.

Perks Of Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter

Most fire departments require their volunteers to commit a minimum number of hours to their duties. Most fire departments do not pay their volunteers, while other departments do pay a certain minimal hourly wage. You will be doing your community a huge service by becoming a volunteer firefighter, and many people will owe you their lives.

Additionally, should you ever decide to become a professional firefighter, you will instantly differentiate yourself from the other candidates by referencing your experience as a past volunteer fireman, significantly increasing your odds of being hired.

How To Become a Volunteer Firefighter – Summary

All in all, your first step should be getting in touch with the fire department(s) of your choice and inquiring about their specific volunteering procedures, exact requirements, and the type of training you’ll need to go through as well as whether you need to pay for any part of the training. You can however pretty much expect a part (or all) of what was mentioned in this article to be required of you before you can become a volunteer firefighter in any US state. Keep in mind that, according to the National Fire Protection Association, close to 70% of all firefighters in the USA are currently volunteers.

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