The fire service has a lot to offer someone who wants to excel in their career and earn more income. As an employer, we look for people who can solve problems, add value, and see things from a higher level of understanding. We also want our employees to have the courage to make decisions independently and not be afraid to try things they have not tried before. However, those types of employees are hard to find. Many are comfortable doing only what is expected of them and punching the time clock. If you’re looking for an opportunity to enhance your skills at no out-of-pocket cost, becoming a volunteer firefighter in your community can help.
First, let's define a “volunteer firefighter” as the details within the title have changed drastically over the years. When you see a large incident on the news involving the fire service, most people simply assume the people in uniform are full-time firefighters. On the contrary, there is a high probability they are volunteers. Each of them has a full-time job or manages their home, balancing soccer, karate, dance team, and football in between. Most communities within the United States use volunteer firefighters to mitigate their emergencies. They have become the Swiss Army Knife of the community, responding to various emergencies, from fire incidents to medical calls. They also save our nation billions of dollars in personnel costs. Without them, we see a lot of devastation and loss.
The definition of “volunteer” is “a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task (Oxford, 2021).” It does not mean they do it without any remuneration. In fact, more communities now pay their firefighters something for being part of their team. Aside from pay, there is much more to gain from becoming a volunteer firefighter in your area. As I look back on a highly active career in the fire service for over thirty-two years, I cannot tell you how many times the fire service helped me grow and gain trust. Let us define some of the main ways to help you become a firefighter.
When you apply to become a firefighter, it is likely with one of the most trusted public agencies within the community. To join their team, they put you through a process of interviewing and testing that can add value to your resume. Seeing you have been through that process gives employers comfort in knowing you have a good background and a mind to serve. You will gain experience in front of the board of interviewers who will ask you questions to learn more about you. That will require you to prepare to speak in front of a group and think logically to answer the questions. They may take you through a series of tests to check your criminal history, reading and math, or teamwork ability. All of which will benefit you in the future and experience you cannot get at school.
Once you get the position, you will be sent to school to learn the basic skills and tools of the trade. It doesn’t matter if you’re full-time or volunteer; these classes are required. In class, you will learn about responding to emergencies, using power saws and ladders, and even cutting someone out of a vehicle or machine. You will be challenged to enter a smoke-filled room using a self-contained breathing apparatus and seventy pounds of gear on your body. You will be pushed to your fear limits, climbing a 100-foot aerial ladder and even entering a room on fire to extinguish it. I cannot express how much fun you will have; these lessons can be taken back home and used throughout your life.
Firefighters never work alone; they are always in a team known as a “company.” That requires you to gain respect and trust in others because you will depend on each other in every incident. There is no time for contention and gossip when handling someone else’s emergency. Employers love employees who can work in multi-generational teams and understand one another’s strengths and weaknesses. This could be YOU!
Above all, you will inherit the trust others have built for you over hundreds of years. The firefighter is one of the most trusted individuals in the U.S., and part of your job will be to ensure you carry that forward. You will be known as the “firefighter down the street” and work with amazing people who are there for the PURPOSE of serving their neighbors.
Becoming a firefighter starts with committing to better yourself and serve your community. It may be a new idea, but I have seen it change the lives of those who decided to do it. If you were to add up the cost of taking classes on all that you will learn, you will wonder why the term “volunteer” even exists. You will gain so much value that will carry with you for life.
To learn more about becoming a firefighter, go to www.mnfirehire.org. We can connect you with your local fire service for free!