Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a volunteer firefighter. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about training, job duties and certification to see if volunteer firefighting is for you.
Despite being volunteers, these firefighters still go through extensive training and many times obtain emergency medical technician (EMT) certification as well. In time, they may become paid firefighters.
Volunteer firefighters assist professional firefighters after being recruited and attaining at least 110 hours of training. Many departments also require firefighters to become certified as 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 a better opportunity to becoming a paid firefighter.
Requirements for becoming a volunteer firefighter vary by fire department. Most departments require firefighters to be at least 18 years of age and hold a high school diploma or equivalent. Candidates are generally required to pass written and physical exams, drug screenings and background checks. Some departments may require volunteer firefighters to have 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.
After being recruited, new volunteer firefighters typically enter department-run training academies or similar programs. According to VolunteerFD.org, firefighters in the United States are required to complete at least 110 hours of training in programs certified by the National Fire protection Association.
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 emergence 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.
Career Requirements for Volunteer Firefighters
Many fire departments in the United States require EMT certification for firefighters. For such departments, 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 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 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 110 hours of training and they can pursue EMT certification as well as a bachelor’s degree in fire science. Those with both experience and education will have the opportunity to move up to a paid position where they can earn a median salary of $46,870 a year.