Volunteer firefighters are individuals who give their time and energy to help professional firefighters. About 75 percent of ALL US firefighters are volunteers. Usually, as in the case of small towns like Hood River, Oregon, the county can only afford to pay 10 full time firefighters with two stations to serve an entire county of 15,000 people and a scary amount of summer forest fires.
Volunteers can deduct time spent fighting fires from their taxes. They are rarely paid, although some are given a token stipend for their time. A commitment to serve comes with this training. Equipment is issued and maintained by the fire department. The firefighters are issued one way radio recievers that link to a dispatcher. The dispatcher relays where and how large the fire is.
Most volunteer departments are funded in part by the government and in part by donations. Firefighters are sometimes seen at busy intersections doing a "fill the boot" campaign. Given that engines are 70000 dollars to 300000 dollars, the more boots that are filled with cash, the better. Many fire departments do BBQ community fundraisers and other events.
Training and Safety
Contrary to popular belief, volunteers are trained quite well, often just as much as professional firefighters. They are usually trained at government expense, and that training usually costs about 4000-5000 dollars. Training consists of the following basic core areas:
- Regulation and Safety OSHA, American National Standards Institute and National Fire Protection Association guidlines must be followed.
- Pre-operations planning This includes equipment readyness, maintanence, and paperwork. Trucks, hoses and pumps require constant maintenance and care. Other equipment like oxygen tanks and ladders require regular practice to use well.
- Medical Firefighters are trained varying amounts. They all are trained in trauma emergency, CPR, and related basics. Some have EMT training.
- Fire Fighting and rescue They must know the dynamics of fires and safety. This includes basic things like aiming water at the base of the fire, not the flames. Rescue is also important. Firefighters need to know about architecture so they don't enter weak parts of buildings and know which parts will fail first. Rescuing people from tall buildings is also important.
- Training Often, firefighters get the opportunity to practice on condemed structures. The buildings are donated by developers, firefighters get to torch them and practice their skills in a supervised, non-critical environment. Often, fire stations have 75 foot tall towers in which hoses are dried and inspected after a fire. These towers are often used for training firefighters to use ladder trucks.
- Prevention Firefighters are often tapped to give lectures, advise homeowners, and mow lawns. Yeah, mow lawns. Grass burns fast, so fields are often mowed or roto-tilled to prevent grass fires.
Many volunteers are former firefighters or came from professions in which they were trained to fight fires, such as merchant shipping, chemical plant operations, and the military.