Volunteer firefighters are brave individuals who assist in putting out fires. Despite being recruited volunteers, they must still go through extensive training and many sometimes obtain emergency medical technician certification as well. Though they start as volunteers, through hands-on experience they can become a paid firefighter earning a median salary of $49,620 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2018.
How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter - Overview of Requirements
Volunteer firefighters assist professional firefighters after being recruited and going through a training program. Most departments also require firefighters to become certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs). While volunteer firefighters need no formal education past a high school diploma, holding an undergraduate degree in fire science or fire safety engineering may provide an easier path to a paid firefighting position.
|Required Education||High school diploma|
|Other Requirements||110 hours of training, EMT certification|
|Projected Job Growth (2016-2026)||7% (all firefighters)*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$49,620 (all firefighters)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Basic Qualifications and Skills
Requirements for becoming a volunteer firefighter vary by fire department. Most departments require firefighters to be 18 years of age or older and hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. Candidates are generally required to pass written and physical exams, drug screenings and background checks. Some departments may require volunteer firefighters to hold a valid driver's license and live within a department's service area. Many employers prefer applicants who demonstrate strong decision-making skills, dependability and bravery.
Volunteer Firefighting Training
After being recruited, new volunteer firefighters typically enter department-run training academies or similar programs.Training programs are comprised of both practical application and in-class instruction. Trainees learn to handle various rescue tools, such as extinguishers, axes and ladders. Along with firefighting techniques, they're instructed in preventing fires, handling hazardous materials and performing emergency medical procedures.
Firefighters continue training in their departments after graduating from training academies and are typically subject to probationary periods. Many firefighters participate in apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeships can take up to four years to complete and provide trainees with hands-on experience under the supervision of skilled fire protection professionals.
Volunteer firefighters only need a high school diploma; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a growing number of firefighters have completed some postsecondary coursework (www.bls.gov). Volunteer firefighters may be more likely to advance to a paid position if they hold an undergraduate degree in fire science or fire safety engineering. Associate's degree programs in fire science typically take two years to complete and are geared toward firefighters seeking advancement in the occupation. Courses may cover arson investigation, protection systems, prevention, firefighting strategies, building construction and hazardous materials.
Emergency Medical Technician Certification
Departments usually require firefighters to become certified emergency medical technicians (EMTs). Most firefighters hold the EMT-Basic designation, which is the minimum level of certification. Firefighter academies may include EMT training; otherwise, volunteer firefighters may attend EMT-Basic training courses offered by community colleges and healthcare providers. Along with classroom instruction in emergency response techniques, these programs incorporate practical experience in emergency rooms or ambulances. After completing formal training, EMTs may obtain certification by passing written and practical tests offered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians or a state certification board.
While not mandatory, some firefighters choose to pursue professional certification. The National Fire Protection Association offers the Certified Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS) designation to professionals dedicated to fire safety (www.nfpa.org). Candidates must have a high school education and six years of fire protection experience, an associate's degree and four years of first-hand practice or a bachelor's degree directly related to fire safety and two years of related work. Qualified candidates may complete a 100-question certification exam to earn the CFPS designation. CFPS firefighters may renew certification every three years by providing proof of experience, contributions to the profession and continuing education credits.
Volunteer firefighters assist in the control and extinguishing of emergency fires. Those who enter this career have to take part in training, and they can pursue EMT certification, as well as a bachelor's degree in fire science. Those with both experience and education may have the opportunity to move up to a paid position where they can earn a median salary of $49,620 a year, said the BLS in 2018.