How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter

Becoming a volunteer firefighter is one of the most rewarding and selfless decisions you can make. Volunteer firefighters prevent and put out fires and administer first aid within their communities. Today, volunteers make up 55% of all active firefighters, making it a great first step on the ladder to becoming a paid firefighter. Keep reading to learn what it takes to fill this vital role and find out how you can get started making a difference today.  

Step 1

Are You Ready to Become a Volunteer Firefighter?

Before diving into an intensive training program with your local fire academy, it’s important you’re sure about becoming a volunteer firefighter. While some individuals may find battling fires, aiding in search and rescue efforts, and providing emergency medical services fulfilling and exciting, volunteer firefighting can be taxing and isn’t for everyone. To better understand if becoming a volunteer firefighter is for you, ask yourself the questions bellow.  

  • Are you willing to give up the occasional full night of rest or work unsocial hours to help others?
  • Do you find it important to give back to the community in meaningful ways that pay it forward?
  • Do you feel your mental health is robust and that you can perform responsibilities without experiencing undue stress and/or anxiety?
  • Are you looking for a community of others who enjoy helping people in times of fear or loss?
  • Do you meet all of the general and specific requirements for becoming a volunteer firefighter?

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you may be an excellent fit for a career as a volunteer firefighter.  

Step 2

Contact Your Local Fire Department

One of the first – and most important – things you learn about being a volunteer firefighter is that you can’t go it alone. Researching what volunteering entails and how you can get started is a great place to begin, but getting in touch with your local fire department is the best way to find out all the specifics. Try speaking with the fire chief or the volunteer coordinator and ask about current and future openings with the department. Some of the questions you may want to ask include:

  • Are there residency restrictions?
  • What’s involved in the screening process?
  • Does the fire department have vacancy?
  • How many hours do volunteers work on average?
  • Does the department provide fire safety equipment or do I?

Understand the Duties of a Volunteer Firefighter

The duties of a volunteer firefighter span beyond putting out fires and rescuing animals from trees. In reality, volunteer firefighters perform a multitude of important tasks to keep others safe, maintain their equipment, and ensure the department can continue serving their community. Some of the most common duties include:

Fire emergencies

Volunteer firefighters respond to fire outbreaks in the same way as paid firefighters, although their involvement is usually secondary or in support of career firefighters. Some of their responsibilities include setting up ladders, connecting hoses to hydrants, spraying fires directly, and using methods to prevent fire spread.

Emergency medical services

Search and rescue

Traffic Incident Management (TIM) and highway safety

Maintenance

Fundraising

Office work

Benefits of Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter

Wondering about the perks of becoming a volunteer firefighter? While not all these benefits will be offered at every fire station, here are a few common perks you may find when becoming a volunteer firefighter:

A second family

When working in life or death situations, those who serve alongside you can become more than colleagues, they become family. In addition to your work as a volunteer firefighter that bonds you together, you will also likely go through personal and professional changes that you share with your fellow volunteers.

Free training & professional development

Tax incentives

Free last will and testament

Access to retirement programs

Scholarships & tuition reimbursement

Step 3

Apply for a Position & Complete the Screening Process

After learning all you can about what a day-in-the-life looks like for a volunteer firefighter and reading up on some of the responsibilities and benefits of the role, it’s time to find out about the specific requirements to ensure you qualify. Because each department, town, county, and state set unique requirements for joining, they can vary widely. That being said, the general requirements highlighted in the following section will give you an idea of what to expect.

Before You Apply: Meet General Requirements

Even for volunteer roles, fire departments set general requirements to help mitigate risks for all parties involved. Make sure you meet the following before applying.

  • At least 18 years of age
  • High school diploma or GED
  • Pass a background check
  • Valid driver’s license

Apply & Interview

Each fire station governs itself and sets specific rules and requirements for the application process. Timelines for applying tend to vary based on the department’s level of need: those who urgently require volunteers may process your application in a week, while those who are well staffed may take months to get back to you. If your application receives approval, it’s time to begin the screening process. Below are some questions you should be prepared to answer in your volunteer firefighter interview:

  • Describe a time when you had to solve a problem in a group. How did working with a group help you solve the problem?
  • What is your routine for maintaining physical fitness?
  • What would you do if a superior asked you to carry out an order which was outside department protocols?
  • How would you help build and maintain good relationships in the firehouse?
  • What would you say are the most and least appealing parts of being a volunteer firefighter?

After You Apply: Pass the Screening Process

While the application process helps the fire station confirm if you meet the basic requirements such as age, education, and your ability to drive, the screening process determines whether you can legally and physically join. Screening tools vary by department, but in general expect these requirements:

  • Background check
  • Physical examination
  • Medical evaluation
Step 4

Get Your Volunteer Firefighter Training

Volunteer firefighter training equips recruits with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate emergency situations while also underscoring the immense amount of responsibility that comes along with protecting themselves, their fellow firefighters, the equipment they use, and the citizens they take a vow to serve and protect. Undergoing training can feel overwhelming when also juggling outside professional and personal responsibilities, but it helps safeguard everyone involved. Aside from initial training to join the force, even volunteer firefighters should undergo continuing education on a regular basis to stay informed on emerging best practices and procedures.

Types of Training

Training requirements for volunteer firefighters vary by department, locality, and state. Some departments only require volunteers to pursue foundational training given that enough career firefighters are on the force to oversee them; smaller departments often ask that volunteers complete additional training so they can operate more autonomously. Check with your local volunteer coordinator to learn more about the specifics. Generally, volunteers will be required to complete one or more of the following courses.

Firefighter I

This baseline level of training ensures firefighters possess the foundational knowledge and competencies needed to be on the scene of a fire. They must still work under the direct supervision of a qualified superior, but this qualification helps them demonstrate their ability to perform basic duties. Costs vary; at South Bay Regional Public Safety Training, estimated expenses total $4,579.

Firefighter II

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)

Emergency Medical Responder (EMR)

Paramedic

Hazmat Awareness

Wildland Firefighter

Step 5

Consider Earning a Degree in Fire Science

While no fire station will turn down your application to volunteer simply because you don’t possess a degree in fire science, earning this qualification at any level can give you the opportunity to advance your career or even transition into paid firefighting roles down the line. Even if working as a full-time firefighter may not be your ultimate professional goal, this credential can help you qualify for several fascinating related jobs that may better fit your interests. Below we’ve reviewed some common jobs related to fire science, the education required to pursue them, and the average salary potential.

CareerDegree RequiredAverage Salary
FirefighterHigh School Diploma$49,620
Fire Investigator Associate or Bachelor’s in Fire Science$60,200
Emergency Management DirectorBachelor’s Degree in Emergency Preparedness$74,420
EMT/Paramedic High School Diploma$34,320

Learn everything you need to know about earning your degree in fire science on our fire science hub page. 

Volunteer Firefighter FAQs

Before taking the plunge and applying to work as a volunteer firefighter, you probably have some questions about the process and what to expect once you begin volunteering. The best way to find specific answers is to contact your local fire department, as your state’s requirements will likely be different from stations located elsewhere. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions by volunteer firefighter hopefuls.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Volunteer Firefighter?

The answer to this question depends on what types of training your local station requires you to possess before sending you out on calls. In addition to monthly and/or quarterly training sessions for all volunteers, those just joining the force usually spend two to six months completing courses and training to learn appropriate responses to a myriad of situations commonly encountered by firefighters. Some training may be done online while other parts must be done in-person. Learners must also pass written and physical tests to demonstrate their mastery of knowledge and techniques.

Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Volunteer Firefighter?

Do You Have to be an EMT to Work as a Volunteer Firefighter?

Do Volunteer Firefighters Receive the Same Training as Regular Firefighters?

Is There Online Training for Volunteer Firefighters?