Pay for volunteer firefighters varies from station to station. However, no regulation mandates the USA Fire Department to pay volunteer firefighters. Some earn nothing while others make as much as $14 per hour.
Most volunteer firefighters do not receive any monetary compensation. In some states, they might get tax rebates, life insurance, health insurance, or pension plans depending on the number of hours they work. Those that do get paid usually receive small stipends or annual bonuses.
However, plenty of organizations, such as the National Volunteer Fire Council, campaign for a standardized compensation model for volunteer firefighters. This is because volunteer firefighters make up close to 70% of all active firefighters in the USA. Nonetheless, no law has been passed so far to deal with this issue.
Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?
1. Which Volunteer Firefighters Are Paid?
Since compensation for volunteer firefighters is not regulated, it is hard to know who are paid and who aren’t. However, there are several cities in the USA that are known to pay volunteer firefighters well. Some of those cities include San Francisco, Mountain View, CA, Washington, and Jersey City.
2. What are the Benefits and Entitlements that Volunteer Firefighters Get?
You get to leave a positive impact on society: The main benefit of being a volunteer firefighter is that you get the chance to impact the community positively. Just as the name suggests, volunteering involves doing something out of free will without expecting any form of compensation.
Therefore, most volunteer firefighters are incentivized by the fact that they get to give back to the community. Knowing that their contribution makes a meaningful difference to their society gives them a feeling of self-accomplishment.
While it is hard to quantify how much this is “worth,” some argue that it is one of the most fulfilling compensation someone might receive.
It helps you gain valuable skills and real-world experience: During volunteer selection, candidates who have previous experience in EMS or fire are given preference. If you are a rookie, being a volunteer can be a great way to gain tons of experience.
This is because you will be involved in basic to advanced rescue skills, hazardous materials, operating fire apparatus, EMS courses, fire, leadership, and conflict resolution. Given that you will get all those for free, it might be a great way to develop your career. Also, the extensive training you get can help you grow yourself as well.
The tangible benefits: Even though volunteers are not entitled to pay, they often still receive some form of compensation. The amount or type of compensation that a volunteer firefighter will get varies drastically.
Those who receive monetary payment are usually paid based on the number of on-call responses. Others are paid when there is a seasonal influx. For example, if a state expects the number of tourists visiting to increase, it might need more firefighters.
In most cases, those who take up these roles are usually given a small check. However, they must work for a certain number of hours.
Other departments chose to pay their crew members by providing certain benefits such as:
- Subsidized insurance
- Reimbursements for costs incurred e.g., food and gas
- Tax deductions
- Seasonal bonuses
- Retail discounts
- Scholarships, training, and education programs
- Service recognition
3. Can Anyone be a Volunteer Firefighter?
Unless things have changed, it was almost every American child’s dream to become a firefighter. Regardless of whether you want to be a career firefighter or a volunteer firefighter, there are several requirements that you need to meet.
For career firefighters, the qualification criteria are stricter than that of volunteers. In the case of volunteers, some of the basic requirements include:
- Being at least 18 years
- Having a high school diploma or equivalent
- Pass a drug screenings
- Be physical fit
- Pass special written tests
- Pass background checks
- You have to reside within the department’s service area
- Display strong decision-making skills, bravery, and dependability
Other specific requirements vary across different departments. Most departments will prefer to recruit volunteers who have some basic experience with fire or EMT.
4. How do I know if I have what it takes to be a Volunteer Firefighter?
It is also important for any person who wants to become a volunteer firefighter to self-assess themselves. You should ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you willing to give up the occasional full night sleep?
- Are you passionate about giving back to the community?
- What is your main reason for joining the force?
- Do you believe your mental or emotional health is capable of coping with the demands and distress that comes with the job?
- Lastly, check to see if you meet the minimum qualifications.
5. What Training Do Volunteer Firefighters Need?
A firefighter’s job is very demanding, and you have to develop certain skills through rigorous training. However, if you are joining the department as a volunteer, the number of training hours and the type of training you do will not be so demanding. Nonetheless, you still need to equip yourself with the skills needed to handle emergencies.
As a volunteer, you have to ensure that you can bear the responsibility that comes with the firefighter title, and you carry out your duties diligently without harming yourself, fellow firefighters, and citizens. That is why all volunteers undergo initial training before they are allowed to join the crew.
The training requirements for volunteers vary across different states. Those who volunteer for large departments might only need to pursue basic training as there are plenty of experienced firefighters to guide them. However, for smaller towns, you might be required to complete additional training that would allow you to operate autonomously.
Some of the baseline training that cuts across most departments include
- Ensuring firefighters possess the fundamental knowledge and competencies required at the scene of an incident.
- Training firefighter’s safety functions and being an effective team player.
- EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and EMR (Emergency Medical Responder) training.
- How to identify hazardous materials.
In most stations, this training is done weekly. Volunteers are expected to train for a minimum of 3 hours every week for one year. However, if you have a more flexible daytime job, you can train for a shorter period of time.
6. What are the Duties for Volunteer Firefighters?
Almost every aspect of volunteer firefighting is dynamic. That is why volunteer firefighters’ duties are assigned based on their experience, level of training, the state they work for, and many more factors. Also, the number of hours you work will vary depending on the station’s working schedule and your career.
Typically, most volunteer firefighters work for 5 to 8 hours every week. A volunteer firefighter’s main duty is to assist those in distress, help save lives, and extinguish fires.
During the initial stages, volunteer firefighters normally work under supervision. Other than that, the duties of volunteer firefighters are very similar to those of career firefighters. They are expected to inspect equipment such as trucks, hoses, and ladders. This will involve ensuring that they are functioning properly, checking for cracks and leaks.
Most volunteer firefighters will not be involved in the direct line of action – instead, they will be in the background assisting those who have been rescued and are injured. In such situations, they are expected to administer CPR and perform other basic first-aid protocols. However, experienced volunteers might be asked to suppress fires, drive fire trucks and even investigate fires.
Firefighting is not only about responding to fire incidents. Today firefighters are expected to perform community outreach. In such cases, volunteers might be asked to visit schools or engage the public on fire safety matters, from how to prevent fires to how to respond to fires.
Firefighters have to adhere to very strict 24-hour shifts. During such shifts as a volunteer, you are expected to join your colleagues during routine chores such as cooking and cleaning. In addition, volunteers also help with administrative work, such as writing reports and compiling information.
7. Are Volunteer Firefighters Always On Call?
Volunteers are not mandated to respond to every call. As we had stated earlier, most volunteers work for around 5-8 hours every week. For comparison, a career firefighter works for 56 hours weekly. Therefore, volunteers are only required to respond to calls that arrive while they are on duty.
Therefore, it is impossible for volunteers to always be on call. Also, a lot of volunteers have other jobs that they have to do. In most cases, volunteers will stick to specific working hours. Luckily, most fire departments are flexible and will allow volunteers to work hours that suit their schedule.
In some states, some laws allow volunteer firefighters to leave work to cater for emergency calls. However, the laws governing such actions are very blurred and subjective. This is because not every boss will allow their employees to leave the office just because there is a fire emergency. The majority of people who are protected by such laws work in public service.
As noble as the profession is, there is really no government regulation that dictates volunteer firefighters’ pay or benefits. That is why some earn nothing, and others can make up to $14 per hour. Nonetheless, most volunteers join the fire department because they want to impact their community positively.