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Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid? (Pros & Cons)

Volunteer firefighters do more than just complement private and government fire service stations. They’re crucial to the success of every single one of the fire departments across the United States.

Recent data shows that about 60 percent of the 1 million firefighters in the country are volunteers, which is set to increase. Volunteers have become a key part of dealing with fires and other emergencies.

Perhaps you’re physically fit and looking for ways to serve your community and impact lives. You can do that by volunteering at any of the fire service stations located near you.

However, you may be wondering whether joining up to battle fires and manage emergencies is a rewarding adventure. Getting paid as a volunteer firefighter is a tricky prospect since they don’t receive salaries in the real sense.

Here, you will learn whether you get paid as a volunteer firefighter and other information relevant to the career.

What Does A Volunteer Firefighter Do?

Have you come across a respected member of your community attending to an emergency alongside firefighters? That must be a volunteer firefighter giving up their time and other activities to act as fire service members.

While volunteers are fully trained to combat fires, their roles are slightly limited in range compared to full-time professional firefighters. But this doesn’t make them any less helpful in saving lives and properties.

Depending on where they’re expected to fit in, volunteer firefighters do the following:

  • Fighting fires: Volunteers are expected to respond to and manage fire emergencies. If the department is an all-volunteer one, they will have the same tasks as professional firefighters.
  • EMS (Emergency Medical Services): Volunteers perform basic first aid and CPR action on casualties. This forms part of their training; they’re often expected to show qualifications.
  • Search and rescue: It isn’t always the norm for volunteers to join search and rescue teams, but they can come in handy to cover more ground. Also, some of them understand local terrains better than actual firefighters.
  • Traffic incident management: When firefighters are called out to an incident on the road, they may need help from volunteers to rescue victims of such incidents.
  • Fundraising: Volunteers can help with grant writing and other activities to help fire departments raise funds or set up fairs for the community.
  • Office work: Like most departments, the fire service has tons of paperwork. Volunteer firefighters can help write reports, file documents, and more.
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So, Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?

A straightforward answer to this question is no. You shouldn’t expect to get paid like employed firefighters. What you can expect are certain benefits, such as tax deductions, discounted services, insurance benefits, education incentives, and much more. For example, residents of South Carolina enjoy some benefits after several years of volunteering, including a Length of Service Award retirement program.

firefighters during trainingPin

As a volunteer, you’ll also receive free training for professional development, which can come in handy to secure outside employment in the Fire/EMS service. Other fire service departments offer financial benefits based on training, years of experience, time served, and other factors.

Further, some departments offer little stipends per call or based on the nature of the incident. In some cases, volunteer firefighters get pensions after many years of serving some communities.

If you’re thinking about joining a station, ask the recruiter some questions, especially when you expect some financial gain. However, volunteers do not get paid in the real sense of the word.

Clarity From the Rules

Information from the compensation rules for volunteer firefighters shows that cities in the United States do not have requirements for paying the volunteers. That stance can change under some circumstances.

One of them is if the firefighters stop meeting the definition of a volunteer as provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Further, if a firefighter is no longer a volunteer, the FSLA rules concerning minimum wage and overtime will apply accordingly.

The FLSA has no provision where a volunteer firefighter receives hourly pay. For many, this is almost an outright ban on payments, but the city or town can pay the firefighters a nominal fee.

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They can also offer expense reimbursements and some reasonable benefits. Besides, the fee cannot be tied to productivity. However, payment can be based on a per-call basis, monthly, or annual stipend.

Further, the FLSA states that volunteers’ fees must not exceed 20 percent of the total compensation a city would pay to a full-time firefighter.

Should Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?

It’s easy for some people to look at volunteers and think that they don’t deserve compensation. For others, the reverse is the case. They think that volunteers should get paid for their service. One reason for this is that volunteers often find themselves working long periods.

Sometimes, they must combat difficult situations, such as wildfires needing constant attention and other time-consuming incidents. While it is true that many volunteers are happy with the reward of giving something back to their community, some form of compensation will have them more motivated. Also, mainstay fees or salaries must not be the same as regular firefighters, but just enough to appreciate them.

The debate will not end anytime soon, but changes in the future of firefighting might see volunteers receive salaries. After all, the number of firefighters in the United States is dominated by volunteers. Before signing on the dotted lines, learn what accrues to you as a volunteer in any state and service station.

Positives of Being a Volunteer Firefighter

For many volunteer firefighters, their towns or cities are at the forefront of their decisions to join the service. They’re motivated by a desire to serve in any capacity, and fighting fires is one of them.

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Besides, they can shed light on school fire and safety precautions or ensure that holiday times go as planned in the communities. In addition, volunteers form a close bond with coworkers, which develops into a family-like connection.

Another positive is taking pride in your job, regardless of the payment structure. Moreover, the job motivates you to stay in shape via training, regular exercise, and various roles you have to reprise.

Negatives of Being a Volunteer Firefighter

Volunteer firefighting is a selfless act with a high risk of injury or death. Large fires may engulf small towns or a group of buildings. That might plunge a limited local fire department into chaos. In such a situation, volunteer firefighters might find themselves in a dangerous predicament.

Further, as a volunteer firefighter, you might have to attend scenes of horrific accidents and suicides. You are expected to remain calm and levelheaded in any emergency. Firefighting is physically demanding, and the routine can take its toll on you. Besides, research shows that heart attacks are a leading cause of death at the scene of a fire.

There’s also the potential risk of cancer in those exposed to hazardous chemicals and fumes. Difficult situations that may not end well will put more strain on your mind and body.

Steps to Become a Volunteer Firefighter

  • Be sure it’s what you want: Firefighting is not for the faint of heart. Ensure you’re enthusiastic about the purpose of firefighting and the dangers involved before committing to the project. It’s a challenging job, and you’d have to give up much of your free time for the training and roles. Moreover, you need strength in the job, especially if you’re on call, which means staying fit most of the time.
  • Contact your local fire department: Learn what it takes to volunteer with them and what it takes to become a firefighter. Don’t forget to ask questions regarding the minimum requirements, screening, time off work, and stipends. With these questions, you’ll learn if you’re eligible to work as a volunteer and if the state or city has certain restrictions.
  • Get the minimum requirements: Once you know them, ensure you fulfill them. For example, some departments admit only 18-year-olds with a high school diploma or GED, clean background, and a valid driver’s license.
  • File your application: After choosing a fire department you’re eligible for, learn how to submit your application. Most times, your ID and some forms are presented to you.
  • The screening process: After submitting your application, you may be invited for a screening exercise. This step mainly involves checking the details you provide, a drug test, a physical exam, a medical evaluation, and other due diligence on the part of the department.
  • Complete the training: Training is a vital part of the process, and it helps you build on your skills and knowledge. The fire department will teach you how to control fires, put them out, trauma response, traffic diversion, basic life-saving techniques, administration of first aid, and more.
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Now that you know this information concerning volunteer firefighter payments, is the career choice worth it? It sure is! Data has established that volunteers are much more than regular firefighters in the United States fire service. That shows many individuals are willing to sacrifice their time and parts of their lives for a good cause.

While there’s no salary or mainstay payment for volunteer firefighters, they enjoy some benefits. Some departments offer incentives on some goods and taxes. What’s more, some departments pay $2 or more per call. The big one is that many volunteers are entitled to retirement benefits.

Overall, far above getting paid as a volunteer firefighter is a chance to impact lives and your immediate community positively. Fighting fires and managing emergencies is a risk associated with the job. Joining a department means getting respect for putting yourself on the line.

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About Martin Vernon

A lifelong learner, educator, and advocate for education as a means for individual and social change. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you have a great day!

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