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Volunteer Fire Services: The Good and the Bad

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To Volunteer or Not to Volunteer




Many fire fighters and medics consider joining a volunteer fire service for various reasons. Some need experience while others do not want a full-time commitment. Still others turn to volunteer opportunities when "real" jobs in the field continually elude them. Whatever your circumstance may be, it's always best to be informed before making a decision that may end up being a waste of your time.



Keep in mind that the good and the bad of working for volunteer fire services is based purely on personal opinion, because everyone is different. Personal likes and dislikes, family responsibilities, and personal goals are among the things that will determine what is good and what is bad for YOU when considering a position with volunteer fire services.


The Good




Among the advantages of working for a volunteer service are the following:



1. Simple application process

2. No waiting lists

3. Usually no conflict of interest if you have another job

4. Fire fighters generally are not required to be paramedics

5. Medics generally are not required to fight fires

6. Opportunities for emergency medical technicians (EMTs), formerly known as EMT basics

7. More flexibility in your work schedule

8. Easier to get time off for vacation

9. Considerably Fewer 911 calls to take

10. More flexibility in switching work shifts with a co-worker


The Bad




The "good" list certainly might not represent how things are at all volunteer fire services. However, it gives a general idea of what many fire fighters and medics who are volunteer consider to be advantages. The following is a list of the "bad" aspects that many have found in their work with volunteer fire services.



1. Shamefully low pay - Some services pay volunteers around $1.00 per hour of duty plus $7.00 per 911 call that they take. Others pay around $10.00 per call. It all works out to about the same. It would be more fair to pay volunteers something like $3.00 per hour of being on duty, plus at least $10.00 per hour for every 911 call for EMTS, $15.00 for AEMTS, and $25.00 for paramedics.



2. Little opportunity for "good" experience - Most volunteer fire services are in rural areas and very small towns. Fire fighters and medics might receive as little as two calls per month; and they might be for an elderly person who has fallen or for a small fire. Let's face it, these rescuers simply never get the experience that fire fighters and medics who work in urban areas gain.



3. Too much demand on your time - Some volunteer fire services focus heavily on fund raising; and require that the members of the service do all of the labor involved with raising funds. This can mean that you are frequently required to go to a fund raising event such as a parade, a trip to a local school or church, community dinners, etc.



4. Familiarity with the town - Some people are not comfortable with responding to a 911 call for an individual or individuals whom they know personally. Obviously this is the norm rather than the exception when working for volunteer fire services.



5. "Clicks" within the town - Another "problem" with very small towns is the fact that most everyone knows most everyone else. This could have a negative influence on operations within the service. If one of your friends or relatives, or a friend of one your relatives has a dispute with the chief or one of the officers of the service, you could be negatively impacted. It might not be fair, but the fact is that there just aren't the same checks and balances within volunteer fire services as there are in "regular" urban services.



6. You must live in the town - There might be a service with which you'd love to serve. However, generally you must be a resident of the town in order to serve as a member. Relocation often is not feasible for most people, especially if they're content with their current living arrangements or are home owners.



7. Lack of benefits - It is not the norm for volunteer fire services to offer a benefit package including things such as health insurance, life insurance, a 401k plan, paid vacation, etc. These things come with "real" jobs, not volunteer positions. Many services do offer a tuition reimbursement for furthering your studies in the field. And, some will actually pay for your training. While this might sound good, beware of two possible problems. First, the chief, or the person in charge of making the decision to pay for your training, might always find a reason why you are not "eligible." Even when you are eligible, often the service you are required to give back in exchange for tuition is much too demanding for what you receive.



You can evaluate your situation, goals, and personal preferences to determine if you are best suited to a regular, full-time, paid position in the city, or a volunteer position in a rural area. If you entered the field motivated by a genuine desire to help people, best wishes with whatever your decisions is.


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Christian Paramedics and Emergency Medical Technicians: The Challenges Faced

From Basic to Advanced Emergency Medical Technician

EMT Basic Training and EMT experience: Bridging the Gap - Part I

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