A volunteer firefighter is a man or a woman who donates time to work as a first responder for a fire department. They are typically unpaid individuals who meet certain requirements as imposed by the fire department in the country, state and city in which they live. The roles and responsibilities of volunteer firefighters may vary around the world. Certain locations, such as Chile, have all voluntary firefighters, while in the United States well over half of the firefighters work on a volunteer basis.
In the United States, the history of volunteer firefighters dates back to the 18th century, with the first paid, or career firefighters not appearing until the middle of the 19th century. Volunteers include famous historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin. It was Benjamin Franklin's influence that helped form the first group of volunteer firefighters.
One of the common reasons that a person may wish to become a volunteer firefighter is a desire to pursue a career as a firefighter. Others may be motivated to volunteer out of a wish to provide a service to the community versus a desire for a career. If the goal is to eventually become a firefighter, volunteering can help provide invaluable training and experience.
The amount and duration of training depends on the specific laws and the fire department's volunteer program. This may range anywhere from two weeks to five months and it includes a required National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) certified course. Continued training is typical, even for people who have been volunteering for some time. This is meant to help firefighters stay abreast of new techniques and changes in technology or threats to public safety.
Certain requirements are standard regardless of location. A person who wishes to become a volunteer firefighter must be able to commit to a certain amount of time on a monthly basis. He must also be able to pass a background check and stay in peak physical condition. In addition, it is critically important that he does not have any chemical dependencies. Once accepted as a volunteer firefighter, there is a mandatory probation period that must be met.
Depending on the location, a volunteer firefighter may become eligible for a limited amount of benefits. These benefits may or may not include worker's compensation, burial expenses up to a certain dollar amount or even health benefits that may cover things such as immunizations and physical examinations.