When a disaster or emergency strikes, firefighters are there to answer the call. What most people don’t realize is that 65 percent of firefighters are volunteers, donating their time and energy to be there for those in need.
“It really is neighbors helping neighbors,” says National Volunteer Fire Council Chair Steve Hirsch. “There is nothing more rewarding than being a volunteer firefighter – we are there for our neighbors when they are having their worst possible day.”
The need for volunteer firefighters has increased dramatically in the last 30 years. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of fire department calls has skyrocketed from just under 12 million in 1986 to over 35 million in 2016. Much of the increase can be attributed to the expanding role firefighters play in emergency response.
“Today’s firefighters respond to nearly every type of emergency – structure fires, wildfires, medical emergencies, natural disasters, hazardous materials spills, search and rescue, terrorist threats. The list goes on and on. We need more people to step up and serve so that we can continue to provide these critical life-saving services in our local communities,” says Hirsch.
While specific requirements vary between departments, the biggest prerequisite is a desire to serve the community. Most fire departments will provide the necessary training to new recruits. It takes commitment and dedication to become a volunteer firefighter, but the benefits are many. Making a difference, developing new skills, giving back, and being part of a close-knit team are all reasons people choose to join a volunteer fire department.
For those who want to help but aren’t able to commit to becoming a firefighter or EMS provider, volunteers are also needed to fill critical non-operational roles. Community members can join a department’s auxiliary or Fire Corps program to provide support services such as public education, disaster planning, fundraising, administration, public relations, and much more.