How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter: A Step-by-Step Guide

Becoming a volunteer firefighter can be an extremely rewarding way to serve your community. Volunteer firefighters play a crucial role in protecting lives and property, often with limited resources. It’s a big commitment but also a chance to gain practical skills, face exciting challenges, and make a real difference locally.

If you have a passion for public service and aren’t afraid of hard work, read on to learn the steps for becoming a volunteer firefighter.

The Benefits of Being a Volunteer Firefighter

Before we get into the details let’s look at some of the key benefits that come with being a volunteer firefighter

  • You get to directly serve and protect your community. This gives you a chance to make an impact where you live.

  • It provides practical first responder training. You gain life-saving skills in firefighting, emergency medical response, rescue operations, and more.

  • You’ll face unique challenges. Volunteer firefighting tests your comfort zone and presents real-world learning experiences.

  • Many volunteer fire departments offer scholarships and other incentives Volunteering can lead to free or discounted training

  • It builds camaraderie. Most volunteers view their department as an extended family working together to protect the community.

  • You’ll stay active and improve fitness Firefighting requires above-average physical health and stamina.

If you’re sold on the idea of becoming a volunteer firefighter, meet the basic requirements outlined below.

Volunteer Firefighter Requirements

While specific qualifications vary, most volunteer fire departments share the following standards:

Minimum Age

You must be at least 18 years old to become a volunteer firefighter. Some departments allow members as young as 16 for junior or apprentice programs but full volunteers must be 18 or older.

Valid Driver’s License

You’ll need a valid driver’s license in your state. You don’t necessarily need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) but must have a clean recent driving record.

Physical Fitness

Firefighting is a physically demanding job. You’ll need above-average strength, endurance, and overall fitness to perform essential job tasks. Departments usually require a medical evaluation.

Emergency Training

At a minimum, you’ll need basic certifications for CPR, first aid, bloodborne pathogens, and emergency vehicle operations. Volunteer departments provide training but previous certification can help.


Most volunteer departments require you to live within 5-10 minutes of the fire response area. This allows quick response times to emergencies.

Clean Record

You can’t have any felony convictions or disqualifying criminal history. Expect a comprehensive background check.


Can you regularly commit 20-50 hours per month? Volunteer firefighters must attend ongoing training drills and be available to respond to calls.

If you meet the criteria above, you’re ready to go through the application and screening process.

The Volunteer Firefighter Application Process

The specific steps vary between departments but usually include:

Contact Your Local Department(s)

  • Reach out to all volunteer fire departments near where you live. Let them know you’re interested in volunteering.

  • Ask about any upcoming new recruit hiring periods and application requirements.

Submit Your Application

  • Fill out the department’s volunteer application form.

  • You’ll provide information on your address, work/training background, certifications, driving record, criminal history, and availability.

  • The application acts as your initial impression so put care into it.

Complete any Written Exams

  • Some departments have a written test or questionnaire about basic firefighting knowledge.

  • It evaluates your understanding of fire behavior, hazardous materials, emergency medical care, and other relevant topics.

  • Study resources are available if a written exam is required.

Prepare for the Physical Ability Test

  • You’ll need to pass a Physical Ability Test (PAT) focused on job-related strength and endurance.

  • Common test components are: wearing gear and breathing apparatus, climbing ladders,simulated rescue drag, attacking hoses, and more.

  • Condition and train for at least several weeks to perform well on the PAT.

Sit for an Interview

  • The fire chief and/or a review panel will interview you about your background, skills, and motivation for becoming a volunteer firefighter.

  • Come prepared to answer questions about your experience, availability, and commitment to the role.

  • Highlight your community spirit, teamwork abilities, and passion for the mission.

Pass the Background Check

  • Expect an extensive review of your driving record, criminal history, employment history, and references.

  • Be upfront about any past indiscretions before the background check. Dishonesty can disqualify you.

  • With a clean background, you’ll move forward in the process.

If you make it through the initial application, your next step is completing fire academy training.

Fire Academy Training

Once accepted, every new volunteer firefighter must graduate from a fire academy program. These immersive training courses teach the core skills needed to serve safely and effectively.

Typical Fire Academy Components

  • Fire behavior – How fire ignites, spreads, and is controlled.
  • Emergency medical – First aid, CPR/AED use, patient assessment.
  • Hazardous materials (Hazmat) – Identifying and responding to chemical threats.
  • Search and rescue – Techniques for finding victims and performing rescues.
  • Fire suppression – Operating fire equipment including hoses, ladders, and extinguishers.
  • Vehicle extraction – Removing victims trapped in vehicles after crashes.
  • Disaster response – Assisting with natural disasters, terrorism, and civic unrest.
  • Fire prevention and investigation – Conducting community outreach and determining fire causes.

In total, expect 80-150 hours of instruction over several weeks or months. Both classroom lectures and hands-on drills are used to teach key knowledge and skills. Some fire academies are held at local stations while larger metro areas have dedicated regional training centers.

Getting State Firefighter 1 Certification

Many academies allow you to test for your state Firefighter I certification. Earning this shows you meet recognized standards for training and competence. It’s not required everywhere but can improve chances for paid firefighting jobs later.

The Firefighter I exam covers material from NFPA 1001 Professional Qualifications for Firefighters. You’ll need to pass both a written test and practical skills evaluation. Study and practice using actual NFPA 1001 test questions to prepare.

Cost and Funding Your Training

Tuition for fire academies varies greatly but averages $1,000-$3,000 nationwide. Many volunteer agencies offset some or all these costs. Federal grants and scholarships for volunteer firefighters are also available:

  • Volunteer Fire Assistance (VFA) grant – Up to $20,000 matching funds for training, equipment, and other needs.

  • FEMA scholarships – Awards training scholarships up to $1,000 based on financial need.

  • AFG Fire Prevention and Safety grants – Available funding for community education and firefighter training programs.

Don’t be afraid to ask about financial assistance. If funding is limited, consider getting a part-time job to cover any out-of-pocket training expenses.

Maintaining Your Volunteer Status

Graduating the fire academy is just the beginning. You’ll need to meet ongoing requirements to stay an active volunteer firefighter including:

Committing to a Weekly Schedule

  • Expect to work one or two regularly scheduled weekly shifts averaging 6-24 hours each.

  • Shifts usually run overnight to ensure quick response when calls come in during lower staffing periods.

  • You may also sign up for extra shifts based on your availability.

Responding to Emergency Calls

  • Attend an average of 25% of all emergency calls per month. Calls are never planned and can come 24/7.

  • When an emergency call comes in, drop what you’re doing and report to the station immediately. Seconds count!

  • Maintain reliable transportation and live within the maximum response radius.

Participating in Continuing Education

  • Complete at least 36 hours per year of ongoing training to keep your skills sharp.

  • Typical continuing education covers hazardous materials refreshers, new response protocols, hands-on drills, and more.

  • EMS recertification is required every 2-3 years to keep providing medical care.

Make sure you can meet the time commitment before applying. Your department will depend on you!

Rewarding Work That Makes an Impact

Becoming a volunteer firefighter lets you take on a crucial role helping safeguard your own community. It takes dedication but offers invaluable real-world experience while saving lives and property.

If you’re up for challenging and meaningful work, follow the steps above to start your firefighting career. Do good close to home by applying today. You’ll gain skills to last a lifetime and join a team that feels like family. Most importantly, you’ll inspire community pride and gratitude knowing you stand ready to serve at a moment’s notice.

how to become volunteer firefighter

Detailing the expectations of the job and the three steps to becoming a volunteer firefighter

how to become volunteer firefighter

Whatever capacity you choose to become involved in with your local volunteer fire department, it will most likely be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Getting involved with a volunteer fire department is an incredibly rewarding way to make a positive contribution to your community. Plus, it is often a stepping stone to starting a career in a full-time fire department.

That said, it’s not something that everyone can undertake. It takes a great deal of physical stamina and mental strength to make this kind of commitment.

As a volunteer firefighter, you’ll be expected to:

  • Keep a clear head in life-or-death situations.
  • Maintain your composure when assisting in traumatic events, like auto crash injuries and fatalities.
  • Put yourself in extreme situations, such as going into burning buildings, crawling through tight spaces and entering other hazardous environments.

Most volunteer fire departments want you to devote a minimum amount of time to service, so make sure you have time in your schedule and the flexibility to make that work. It also means that you must have the time to devote to the requisite firefighter training course. The length of the training can vary by state and the level of certification required — a Firefighter I certification may take six months of attending class two to three days per week.

You must also commit to staying in good physical condition to maintain the stamina to perform the necessary firefighting tasks. Eat right, exercise, and reduce or eliminate habits that can adversely affect your health, like tobacco and alcohol use.

Here are three specific steps to take to become a volunteer firefighter.

Step 1: Contact your local volunteer fire department

The first step should always be to make sure that there is a need.

During your call or visit, ask questions about the process so you understand what to expect as you become a volunteer firefighter.

  • If there isn’t a volunteer fire station in your community, check out surrounding areas.
  • Some fire departments do have residency restrictions, so ask about those in your call.
  • Call the non-emergency number to avoid tying up the fire dispatcher.
  • Many fire stations will welcome you to drop in if they’re not busy.
  • Some fire departments let you ride along with them, or tour their station to give you firsthand experience working in fire safety.
  • They can also direct you to the proper authorities to help you get signed up.

How to Become a Volunteer Firefighter

How do I become a firefighter?

If you want to become a firefighter, you’re going to have to pour a lot of yourself into the job. You will spend, quite literally, hundreds of hours of your life on training for the job, alone. You need to be ready to get involved in your community and deal with the public. You’re going to have to handle stressful situations on a daily basis.

Is a volunteer firefighter a good job?

Firefighting is hard dangerous work and it might not be for you. If you can say “yes” and you have the right motivation, then you might be made of the right stuff that your fire department needs from a volunteer firefighter and you might soon be ready to apply. What Are The Duties Of A Volunteer Firefighter?

What does a volunteer do in a fire department?

In these departments, volunteers are tasked with fighting fires and all the other emergency work. Other fire departments use volunteers to supplement the full-time, paid firefighters. In these departments, the volunteers usually perform more support-related functions.

How do I become a volunteer firefighter at a fire station?

To become a volunteer firefighter at a fire station, first consider the commitment of being a volunteer firefighter. Once you are confident you have the time and ability for the demands of the job follow these steps: Research fire departments in your area that accept volunteer firefighters and express your interest in volunteering.

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