Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?

Firefighting is a necessary profession, and while many communities depend on the people serving in that position, many do not know that most of those firefighters coming to your aid are volunteer firefighters. 

According to a report from the National Fire Protection Association, 67 percent of firefighters serving across the nation were serving in a volunteer capacity. That means that two out of every three firefighters are serving as volunteers. But as a volunteer, do they get paid?

Do volunteer firefighters get paid?

Volunteer firefighters do not get paid a salary or by the hour. Depending on the department, they may receive a stipend or pay-by-call, but according to the Fair Labor Standards Act, a volunteer firefighter receives less than twenty percent of the compensation that a full-time firefighter would receive. 

Before you read on about what kind of benefits a volunteer firefighter gets paid, it’s important to know exactly what they do. 

What is a volunteer firefighter?

Do Volunteer Firefighters get Paid?

In terms of job description, a volunteer firefighter does the same sort of work that a firefighter does—not only do they extinguish fires and complete rescues, but they protect citizens during any sort of emergency, help with hazardous chemical spills, help to prevent fire damage by enforcing codes and completely inspections, and testing hydrants for water to make sure they have what they need if a fire scene arises. They also help to educate the community on fire safety, attend public events, and assist in traffic incidents. 

Both the volunteer firefighter and the firefighter are required to be on call during their shift and go through the same training. 

The only difference between a firefighter and a volunteer firefighter is that the volunteer does not receive a paycheck, although it is more frequent to find volunteer firefighters in smaller communities or rural areas. 

For more reasons to become a volunteer firefighter click here!

What kind of training is required?

A volunteer firefighter has all the same responsibilities as a firefighter, and they also are required to go through the same amount of training. Before you start training, you would need to meet certain basic requirements, typically being over 18 years old and having a valid driver’s license. Most departments require you to be under the age of 35. 

Firefighters are also usually required to have a high school diploma or GED, and although it is not required, many candidates are encouraged to have some sort of emergency medical technician background. 

To even start training, you should be in decent physical condition, because you will have to pass a physical test, a written exam, and a psychological evaluation. After that, you’ll have to attend and graduate from a fire academy. 

Tangible Benefits to Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter

Although the United States Department of Labor states that a volunteer firefighter receives less than twenty percent of a full-time firefighter’s compensation, there are other ways to get benefits or some sort of tangible payment for your work as a volunteer firefighter.

  1. Stipend and Expense Reimbursement

While this is not close to an income, some departments allow for a per-call basis stipend that may be paid monthly or annually. Many departments will reimburse you for gas, meals, or travel when you are on call or take a call. 

In addition to a stipend, too, you may have the opportunity to receive seasonal bonuses from your department. Some departments also provide an expense reimbursement or credit for any uniforms or give out a stipend for purchasing additional clothing.

2. Tax Benefits or Incentives

Do Volunteer Firefighters get Paid?

Depending on the time in service, some areas provide property tax exemption for both volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. For example, Nassau County, New York offers volunteers 10 percent off the assessed value of the property if they have been a member for at least five years. If a volunteer firefighter serves over twenty years, they are offered a lifetime exemption. Some departments also provide tax credits after several years of active service. 

While dependent on whether the state has a program in place, sometimes there are state income tax benefits or state tax incentives provided to volunteer firefighters. For example, in South Carolina, residents can receive up to a $3,000 tax credit or $6,000 with a qualifying spouse through their Volunteer Incentive Tax Program. To participate in that program, all volunteer firefighters must do is meet a certain call volume, attend trainings and meetings, and fulfill some other services to the department. 

3. Training, Memberships, and Professional Development

Because you are serving as a firefighter, training is typically free. This also applies to any continued training you may receive, along with any conferences that may come up in your area. Depending on where you serve as a volunteer firefighter, you could have the opportunity to attend these conferences as a representative of your department and network with other like-minded individuals. 

In addition to training and professional development, some states may also offer discounted memberships to fire councils or firefighter organizations. For example, the National Volunteer Fire Council offers membership benefits including training, resources, scholarships, and even a $10,000 insurance policy. 

4. Free or Subsidized Insurance and Health Care

Do Volunteer Firefighters get Paid?

Some departments are members of an organization that provides life or disability insurance programs, along with individual coverage or discounts. 

In addition to insurance, some departments also provide health care or support. If the department is part of the National Volunteer Fire Council and promotes membership, volunteer firefighters have the opportunity to participate in the Share the Load Program, which is a support program for both fire and EMS in regards to anxiety, depression, burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, and other behavioral issues, states their website. They provide assistance in creating a behavioral health program in local departments, along with outlining resources that can be used to help firefighters cope.  

5. College Tuition Reimbursement or Live-In Program

Do Volunteer Firefighters get Paid?

There is also the option for college tuition reimbursement in some departments. College students are encouraged to become volunteer firefighters for the opportunity to get tuition reimbursement, regardless of what their major is. 

Some areas also provide a college student live-in program. For example, the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in Maryland offers such a program, where college students with prior experience in fire, rescue or EMS have the chance to attend college, receive free room and board, while serving as a volunteer firefighter or EMT. Along with the experience, free meals, and free training, they also can receive tuition reimbursement for being in the program. 

6. Awards Programs

Do Volunteer Firefighters get Paid?

Just like full time firefighters, volunteer firefighters also can win awards based on their service. The Length of Service Award program serves as a pension program to help communities both recruit and retain volunteer firefighters. Depending on how long a person serves and the community program, they can receive up to $6,000 a year for their service upon retirement. 

Firefighting organizations also promote awards, like the National Volunteer Fire Council. They have achievement awards each year, like the NVFC Lifetime Achievement Award, which honors a volunteer firefighter who has served for at least twenty years, The NVFC Junior Firefighter of the Year Award, which honors a junior firefighter who has served for at least one year and has gone above and beyond the call of duty, or the NVFC Junior Firefighter Program of the Year, which honors a junior firefighter program that has created some significant impact in their community. 

7. Retirement 

Some areas allow for an annual retirement program that has monthly benefits. Depending on the department, if you serve a certain number of years or are a certain age, you can retire as a volunteer firefighter and get retirement benefits. 

Although being a volunteer firefighter isn’t a paying job in the traditional sense, you still have the opportunity to get some tangible benefits. But the tangible benefits aren’t always the focus—taking on a volunteer position like this allows you to gain real world experience and skills, a network, and the ability to both help your community and represent your community. 

Taking time to volunteer in a dangerous profession takes a strong person, and with that, you can gain so much more than a paycheck—you gain pride in yourself and your community. 

RELATED QUESTIONS

Do volunteer firefighters get called in at home or from a station?

Since volunteer firefighters usually serve in rural or smaller communities, most do not require you to sleep in quarters when you’re on call. You will receive some sort of notification device or system to alert you to an emergency.

Do volunteer firefighters get pensions?

Although it varies from state to state, most volunteer firefighters are eligible to receive pensions. 

Do I have to pay for firefighter training and equipment?

While it depends on the department, training and equipment will be provided to you for free. 

How often does a volunteer firefighter work?

While dependent on the community and the department, a volunteer firefighter can be expected to work 24 to 72 hours per month, but that can change based on your personal schedule, your preference, and the needs of the department. 

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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.