How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter

A firefighter pulling a hose to get ready to fight a warehouse blaze.
You’re a CPA but you still hold dear your childhood dream of fighting fires. You can keep the number-crunching career and realize your dream too -- become a volunteer firefighter.

Millions of kids dream of becoming a firefighter when they grow up. However, not as many actually do. If you still have dreams of fighting fires and protecting your community, becoming a volunteer firefighter might be the right path for you.

Becoming a volunteer firefighter requires extensive training, hard work and dedication to the community. Smaller communities, towns and cities rely on volunteer firefighters to respond quickly to emergencies, to perform firefighting duties and to provide assistance and support to career firefighters. And although volunteer firefighters receive little to no monetary compensation for their efforts, the chance to aid and serve the community is an extremely rewarding experience.


If you are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, the first thing you need to do is contact your local fire department [source: Volunteer FD]. Someone at the department can then guide you through the requirements and application process, which varies from state to state and from town to town. If your local department does not offer volunteer opportunities, you may be able to find another station nearby. Keep in mind that volunteer firefighters often respond to emergencies from their home or work, and therefore must have a good driving record and be available within five to 10 minutes of the nearest fire station [source: SCCFD].

You must also be in good physical condition if you are thinking of volunteering at your local fire department. Volunteer firefighters must perform some of the same tasks as their career firefighter counterparts. Some of those tasks require heavy lifting, crawling through tight spaces and moving quickly in heavy protective clothing and gear.

Be aware that volunteer firefighting can be a dangerous job that requires facing life or death situations. You should be able to stay calm, cool and collected in the heat of the moment.

If you think you can handle the heat and would make a good volunteer firefighter, read the next page to find out what duties you can expect to perform.


Volunteer Firefighter Duties

While specific duties may vary from state to state and from town to town, many of a volunteer firefighter's duties are the same as those performed by a career firefighter. Even though volunteer firefighters do not live and work in a firehouse like career firefighters, they carry out the same kinds of emergency response duties and non-emergency tasks [source: SCCFD].

Emergency firefighting duties are both challenging and physical. In emergency situations, volunteer firefighters should expect to extinguish and prevent fires as well as administer first aid [source: Grafton Volunteer Fire Department]. Duties also include rescuing victims from cars or buildings, carrying fire hoses up stairs or ladders, and breaking down doors. Volunteer firefighters usually perform all of these tasks while wearing heavy protective clothing in dangerous, smoky and hot environments [source: Grafton Volunteer Fire Department].


But volunteer firefighters do not spend all of their time under pressure in dangerous emergency situations. Non-emergency tasks include performing various routine tasks around the firehouse, such as maintaining the building facilities and emergency vehicles and giving firehouse tours [sources: Grafton Volunteer Fire Department, City of Sun Prairie]. Volunteer firefighters must also set aside time for further training so that they can practice and thoroughly understand firefighting procedures, operational techniques and first aid methods.

If you are interested in learning how to work well under pressure and practice firefighting and first aid techniques, read the next page to find out what kinds of requirements you must meet in order to become a volunteer firefighter.


Volunteer Firefighter Requirements

There are many requirements you must meet in order to become a volunteer firefighter. The type of requirements and number of steps in the application process vary from state to state. You will need to check with your nearest fire department to determine its application process. However, no matter what the application process is, there are some similarities across each state's requirements.

The typical application process begins with a few standard qualifications. Most fire departments require that you be at least 18 years of age or older. You must have a valid driver's license from the state in which you live as well as the legal right to work in the U.S. You should also have a high school diploma or equivalent schooling. Most fire departments also require you to live within certain geographic boundaries so you can respond to local emergencies [source: City of Sun Prairie].


After you meet these initial requirements, you will go through the interview process, undergo a background check and complete a physical test. The physical tests for potential volunteers also vary from state to state, but be prepared to lift up to 70 lbs (32 kg), drag up to 180 lbs (82 kg) and crawl through tight spaces in full firefighting gear [source: SCCFD].

When you have passed the physical test, you will then need to complete a required number of training hours. After your training is complete, you should have open availability for any firefighting needs as they arise. Your position as a volunteer firefighter requires that you be responsible and dedicated to serving your community [source: Volunteer FD].

This kind of selfless service is a reward in itself, but some states and communities give back by offering tax credits to their volunteer firefighters. Read the next page to see how tax credits work for some volunteer firefighters.


Volunteer Firefighter Tax Credit

Volunteer firefighters rarely receive pay of any kind, although some communities reimburse volunteers for the time they invest during their shifts [source: Volunteer FD]. Other fire departments may give their volunteers a limited amount of money for emergency response services [source: Riverside County Fire Department].

Despite the differences in the amount of financial incentives available to volunteer firefighters, tax credits are becoming a more common way to show the community's appreciation. In some states, volunteer firefighters that have worked the required number of hours can claim a tax credit on their tax returns. In order to claim a tax credit, a volunteer firefighter must fill out an application to determine eligibility for the tax credit. Then, that application form must be attached to the volunteer firefighter's state income tax form [source: Senator Dinniman].


Different states award volunteer firefighters varying levels of tax credit. At this time, not all states are able to provide tax credits, but others might provide a $100, $200 or $500 tax credit. Tax credits are in place as an incentive for volunteer firefighters. Supporters of tax credits for volunteer firefighters say that providing such an incentive is a good way to retain volunteers and lower taxes since fire departments won't need to hire as many career firefighters [source: Detling].

Regardless of payment, the service you provide by working as a volunteer firefighter is a rewarding and mutually beneficial experience for both you and your community. Check out the links on the next page to learn even more about volunteering.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • City of Sun Prairie. "Volunteer Firefighter Requirements." (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • Detling, Dave. "Firefighter tax credit proposal." Capital 9 News. 4/18/09. (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • Grafton Volunteer Fire Department. "Firefighter Job Description." 12/10/04. (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • Riverside County Fire Department. "Riverside County Volunteer Firefighters." (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • SCCFD. "Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter." (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • Senator Dinniman. "Tax Credit Applications Now Available for Volunteer Firefighters and First Responders." 1/15/09. (Accessed 4/20/09).
  • Volunteer FD. "How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter." (Accessed 4/20/09).