What Exactly Is A Volunteer Firefighter & Do They Get Paid?

If you are thinking about becoming a volunteer firefighter, then you are probably wondering whether you would receive any pay or compensation for your work. In addition, you may be asking yourself what benefits there are or whether you would receive a pension. 

Do You Get Paid If You’re A Volunteer Firefighter

Luckily, we are here to help, and to answer all of your questions. So, what exactly is a volunteer firefighter, and how is this different from other firefighters? 

What Is A Volunteer Firefighter?

A volunteer firefighter is someone who fights fires and is trained to help suppress and put out fires, but is not employed by the fire department.

Volunteer firefighters provide fire protection services on a voluntary basis for training purposes or as a means of giving back to the community. It is not considered a job or career role, as these kinds of firefighters will not be paid a wage or salary for doing so. 

In many cases, people may become volunteer firefighters as a means of becoming a paid firefighter, as volunteering helps to give them the experience and training they need to be a fully fledged firefighter. 

What Does a Volunteer Firefighter Do?

A volunteer firefighter is a person who gives up their free time to work as a member of the fire service or local fire department. These people are often fully trained firefighters, but can sometimes have a limited amount of experience than full time firefighters. 

As a result, volunteer firefighters may be able to respond to emergency calls and fight fires or manage fire emergencies. They will sometimes have all of the responsibilities and tasks as professional firefighters in some cases, where the whole department is made up of volunteers.

They may also be EMS firefighters, or trained to provide basic first aid and CPR so that they can give life support and care at the scene of a medical emergency.

Other volunteer firefighters may be part of search and rescue teams, where they are called to find people who are missing in the wild, and will require a search party.

Some of the more common reasons people call out firefighters is for traffic incident management. This is often when there has been a large road collision, or a wreck where multiple cars and victims are involved. 

The fire department would then be responsible for freeing trapped patients from their cars, or treating traumatic injuries, or even sometimes transporting people to a treatment facility.

In other cases, volunteer firefighters can also be responsible for raising money for the department and setting up fairs, fundraisers and raffles to bring money into the department.

They can also have lots of paperwork to do, and reports that must be written and filed to keep the fire department functioning properly.

Will A Volunteer Firefighter Get Paid?

With many responsibilities as a volunteer firefighter, you may be wondering what pay or wages you can expect. Unfortunately, volunteer firefighters work on a volunteer basis, and do not get paid to work in the fire department. 

It is not legal to pay a volunteer firefighter a wage or a salary as they are not employed by the fire department.

However, they can sometimes be compensated for their travels, or given a rate per call that they respond to. That being said, it will not be much and is not a reflection of their performance in the role, but just as compensation for expenses.

This is not because the fire department does not want to pay volunteer firefighters, but largely because of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This is a particular set of rules and regulations around working roles, of which a volunteer would not fall under. 

What Are The Rules Around Firefighter Volunteering?

The Fair Labor Standards Act stipulates that anyone who is working for a company must be paid an hourly wage, and a minimum wage. In addition, if someone works hours above a certain limit or threshold, they will be paid overtime hours at a different rate.

Therefore, the laws stipulated by the FLSA shows that hourly paid workers are considered employees, and not volunteers or voluntary workers. 

If a volunteer firefighter was paid a wage, then they would no longer be working on a voluntary basis, and would be considered an employee. That being said, this does not mean that volunteer firefighters do not get anything for being a voluntary worker.

The fire departments can often pay a small rate for firefighters, to cover gas money if they are called out to an emergency. 

Also, in some locations, the city or state may legally give a volunteer firefighter money as a reimbursement for expenses that have incurred due to the job, however the amount can vary based on circumstances and the particular fire department.

The biggest way to describe it is that the only payments a volunteer firefighter will receive will be based on things like expenses and compensation, and not for their productivity, or how well they perform.

If they were paid for their performance, then it would be considered a job and paid employment. 

For the most part, a volunteer firefighter will not get paid anything, as that is the whole purpose of volunteering. 

Should Volunteer Firefighters Get Paid?

There are some members of the fire department and the public that feel that volunteer firefighters should be paid something, or should be further compensated for their performance.

After all, it takes a long time to train, and gain the experience to fight fires, and answering emergency calls can be very difficult, draining and hard work. 

For instance, a volunteer firefighter can be called to attend a fire that ends up raging for days on end. This takes up a lot of their time and energy, which can have an impact on their lives, and they would not be able to be paid for it. 

Other people may feel that that is the purpose of volunteering, and that it gives people joy and a chance to give back to their local community. They can also think that the benefits and compensation that they receive is simply a thank you for their dedication and hard work. 

However, the system is unlikely to change, as a volunteer is still a volunteer. When you apply to become a volunteer, you know what you are getting into, and volunteers are never paid to do the work that they do. 

Do Volunteer Firefighters Get Benefits or Pensions?

The good news is that volunteer firefighters do get some benefits, despite not having a wage or salary. They can also qualify for pensions.

For instance, if you are a volunteer firefighter after you have finished work, and you are on a pension, then volunteering can actually boost your pension and provide extra benefits. 

In addition, volunteer firefighters can also receive business discounts, award programs, and be reimbursed for food or gas used in the role. They may also be able to get tax deductions for their efforts, and many other benefits for their dedication. 

How Does A Volunteer Firefighter Pay The Bills?

Without a wage or salary, you could be thinking: how does a volunteer firefighter pay the bills? Well, the simple answer is that it is not a full time position.

As it is not a paid role, volunteer firefighters are not expected to respond to calls all the time or give up all of their spare time to assist in the fire department. Therefore, the vast majority of volunteer firefighters have other jobs or other forms of employment that would pay their bills. 

Volunteer firefighters will often come from all sorts of different backgrounds. They may work as EMTs, and fight fires in their spare time, or they may be teachers, bankers, or any other workers.

They might even train and be a volunteer firefighter for years, take a few years out and return to help in the state of an emergency. As they will have had their training, and the experience to fight fires, these people can step up and help their local community as and when it is needed. 

For instance, actor Steve Buscemi was a firefighter from 1980 to 1984 in New York. When the 9/11 attacks happened in New York in 2001, Buscemi returned to his original fire house as a volunteer, and worked 12 hour shifts for a week to help sift through rubble at the scene, looking for missing people and other firefighters.  

What we are saying is that anyone can be a volunteer firefighter if they want to, and can use their skill to give back to their communities, save lives and prevent fire emergencies. 

Summary

To summarize, volunteer firefighters do not get paid a salary or hourly wage for the work that they do. They work on a voluntary basis, rather than an employee basis, and therefore will not be paid. 

That being said, they may receive compensation or payment for expenses accrued during their jobs, or when they are on call. This usually covers food or gas money, and has nothing to do with the role itself. 

However, they can receive benefits such as tax deductions, store discounts and pension benefits for being a volunteer firefighter, but most people enjoy this role as it lets them give something back to the community, which is the highest reward.