Firefighters are asked to work hard when they are called to action. This applies just as much to volunteer firefighters as it does to career firefighters. It can be challenging to make time for volunteering, your job, family, etc. How do people balance all these responsibilites?
There are many people who work a full-time job and volunteer their time as a firefighter. Volunteer fire departments understand that you have other responsibilities and usually they are flexible with the time commitments they ask of firefighters.
This balance is not always easy. We will talk about the factors that can affect your ability to be a volunteer firefighter while working and how to manage your time. We will also talk about the benefits of being a volunteer and answer a question that many aspiring volunteers have….
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: How To Become A Volunteer Firefighter: A Guide
Can You Be a Volunteer Firefighter with a Full-Time Job?
You can, but, how does this work? Most full-time jobs require you to 40 or more hours per week. How does this fit in with you being a volunteer firefighter?
There are a few different factors effecting this.
How Many Hours Does a Volunteer Firefighter Work?
Volunteer firefighters usually work from 24 – 72 hours per month. However, this number will be dependant on each individual department’s requirements, as well as each firefighter’s availability to work.
Volunteer fire departments don’t have the same hour requirements as a career fire department. Most career firefighters work a rotating schedule that averages 56 hours a week. The type of schedule varies from one department to another.
For more information on career firefighter schedules, read: What Schedule Do Firefighters Work? Shift Schedules Examined
Volunteer firefighters are not asked to work as many as hours for the very reason that most need time for a job to pay the bills. There is no standard hour requirement for volunteers, but in my experience, they usually ask for about 24 – 72 hours per month.
You may be allowed to get these hours through responding to calls from home, weekly or monthly training/drills, ride-along, or covering shifts at the station. Again, the exact requirements will vary, but as you can see, its not the same as a full-time job.
Are Volunteer Firefighters Allowed to Leave Work for a Call?
Some areas have laws that allow volunteer firefighters to leave work to respond to an emergency call, but only under specific criteria. This will depend and it needs to be arranged with your employer prior to being called to respond.
One way to balance your volunteer time with your work time is based upon need. Firefighters may not be needed every minute of every day, especially in the less populated areas that are frequently covered by volunteer fire departments.
This means you can be working your normal hours while there are no emergency calls. When a fire or other emergency happens, you will be notified (usually by pager or cell phone alert/text). If you are able, you can leave work and respond in your personal car (safely, following rules of the road).
Now, not all employers will agree to this arrangement and it will depend on what type of work you do. As we said, some places have laws that require employers to allow you to respond.
For example, in Tennessee, there is one such law.
“…any employee who is an active volunteer firefighter may be permitted to leave work in order to respond to fire calls during the employee’s regular hours of employment without loss of pay, vacation time, sick leave or earned overtime accumulation.”https://law.justia.com/codes/tennessee/2010/title-50/chapter-1/part-3/50-1-309/
If you are not protected by a similar law, you will need to try to work something out with your boss. You may be surprised by their willingness to allow you to respond.
If you are not allowed to respond from work, don’t worry, you can still be a volunteer. You can respond on nights and weekends, attend drills, and still meet the minimum hour requirements.
Do Volunteer Firefighters Have to Respond to Every Call?
Volunteer firefighters are not required to respond to every call when they are “off.” If there are working a shift at the station, they will respond to all calls received. However, when they are at home (on-call) they respond to any calls they are able.
There are three types of fire departments:
- Career: All firefighters are full-time, paid, career firefighters.
- Volunteer: All firefighters are volunteer firefighters
- Combination: Career firefighters are supplemented with volunteer, reserve or paid-call firefighters
If you work at an all volunteer department you will be expected to respond to calls from home when you are and you may be expected to work shift at the fire station and respond to any calls that come in.
If you work at a combination fire department you will probably be expected to respond to calls from home, however, since the career firefighters will be responding, it is probably not as crucial to have off duty volunteers come to help.
Combination departments don’t usually have volunteers work full shifts, though they may be allowed to ride-along as the extra firefighter for part or all of a shift.
So, you don’t have to respond to all calls as a volunteer, but what is expected of you will be dictated by the type of department and who staffs the stations.
Is it Worth Being a Volunteer Firefighter?
Most volunteer firefighters would agree that it is worth it and that they enjoy what they do. It isn’t for everyone, but it can be very rewarding. It can also give you valuable experience that can help to become a paid firefighter, if that is your goal.
Volunteering your time to help others in any way is always rewarding, but being a volunteer firefighter brings with it an especially great sense of accomplishment. Whether or not it is right for you is something only you can answer.
Here is a video that may answer some questions about why to be a volunteer firefighter:
Here are some resources about why you may want to be a volunteer firefighter:
Can Volunteer Firefighters Become Full-Time Firefighters?
Being a volunteer firefighter can help you to become a full-time, paid firefighter. Some departments will hire right from their volunteers for any open paid firefighter spots. Your experience as a volunteer firefighter is always an asset and looks good on a resume.
While not at all volunteer firefighters wish to become career firefighters, many do. If the fire department that you want to work for is a combination department (paid and volunteer firefighters), getting hired as a volunteer first can be a great way to prove to the chiefs that you have what it takes to be a paid firefighter.
Some departments will even give preference points to their volunteers during the hiring process. The experience you will get as a volunteer can be very valuable.
Even if your desired department doesn’t have volunteer positions, you get some volunteer experience elsewhere and it will looked upon highly when you apply for a paid job at any other department.
Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?
Volunteer firefighters, for the most part, do not get paid. You are volunteering your time. However, there are some fire departments that will give stipends per call or reimburse for certain expenses.
There term volunteer kinda sums it. You are volunteering your work and time without getting paid for it. The vast majority of fire departments do not pay their volunteers, but there are exceptions.
However, volunteer firefighters may be eligible for some tax credits or breaks. See here and here.
Also read: Do You Get Paid As A Volunteer Firefighter?
Whether you are working to become a paid firefighter or not, being a volunteer firefighter is a very rewarding experience. Just know that you can make it work even with a full time job. There are ways to balance your time and still be involved with the fire department.
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