Do "Volunteer Firefighters" actually not get paid?

In the US, it’s common to see “Volunteer Fire Departments” that are staffed by “Volunteer Firefighters”. There seem to be two definitions of the term “volunteer” as it relates to work - one means a worker that has literally agreed to work for no pay, and another is a worker that has agreed, with their own free will, to work at a specific job for pay, as opposed to being forced to work there as a draftee, convict, or slave.

Generally, are American “Volunteer Firefighters” actually not paid or given benefits, and being a volunteer firefighter is similar to helping at the food bank? Do “volunteer firefighters” actually get paid, and the real reason they are called that is because, in the past, some people were forced to become firefighters against their will as unfree labor (for example as a slave or as part of a criminal sentence), but “volunteer” firefighters chose to sign up as a firefighter when they could have picked another career?

If volunteer firefighters are truly not paid, how does this work economically for them? Do people really spend money to get training only to work for no pay? Are volunteer firefighters primarily rich people of means and spouses of high-income people who can afford to not have a paying job? Is being a volunteer firefighter used as an investment in skills and experience and the volunteer firefighters are constantly looking forward to the day that they can get hired as a paid firefighter, so being a volunteer firefighter is an internship of sorts?

Yes, they are volunteers. As in they do not get paid.

It’s not their full time job. You go in a few hours a week and maybe sleep at the firehouse one or two nights a week. Most departments will have a paid chief and/or professional commanders on staff.

On our department they get a small stipend according to how many calls they make. Comes out to maybe $1000 a year. Initial training is paid for. We have no paid members. Other towns do.

There is no pay, but there is certain benefits, but for most volunteers it is not about the benefits, it’s about a drive within that they want to help, and just the expense of wear and tear on the cars cold starting in winter at night and driving hard to make it to the firehouse most likely cancels out the benefits. The benefits are just a nice ‘thank you’

But some of the benefits are a break on property taxes OR a state tax rebate of a $200 - usually the $200 is greater, after 5 years of service there is a pension of $20 per year of service paid monthly after age 60, anual physicals are paid by the company and also training so free education for fire related schooling. Then you can get into company specific benefits, most VFD’s have some form of life insurance for on duty and responding to a call, it usually does not cost much more to include them when off duty, so many have some form of life insurance. A few years ago there was a law passes that any VFF who develops asbestose lung disease later in life it would be automatically be assumed to be caused on duty which helps medical with expenses.

My cousin is a volunteer fire-fighter in Washington. According to him, he gets paid a small stipend for being the secretary and everybody gets paid on a per-call basis.

In the small suburban Connecticut town in which I grew up, the fire department is all volunteers. I don’t think any of them are rich; they do it as a community service thing (and I think it’s also a social activity).

In the places I have lived with a volunteer fire department, they don’t get paid but there is often one paid Fire Chief in charge of it all. It operates mostly like a social club or fraternal organization except they have real responsibilities. They generally hang out together, run fundraisers, and enjoy the thrill of being a firefighter so they don’t need the pay to attract enough people.

In my hometown, high school volunteer firefighters could leave school in the event of a big fire so that was incentive enough. What teenage guy wouldn’t enter a burning building rather than listening to an English teacher drone on about poetry?

My town’s VFD does not pay anyone. In fact, individuals pay for some of their own equipment and are reimbursed to the extent fundraising allows!

My father in law was a member of a volunteer fire department, and he was not rich. He was paid a small amount per call. At the end of the year he got a check for around $1000 I believe. He did not do it for the money. His fire district only lhad 4 paid staff. Enough to cover the house 24/7. When he bought his house he wanted fire protection and if no one volunteered then no fire department. It is called comunity. He was a member of the department over 25 years, then served as the fire commissioner.

Where I lived out in the county the fire department only had a Chief. If no one answered the call the fire would rage on uncontrolled. By becoming a member of the volunteer fire department it gave you insurance when answering a fire call. Also out in the country if we saw smoke we grabed shovles and hoes and head to the smoke. It was better to keep the fire small.

And a funny story about my FIL. The week after his orientation while he was at work he heard the fire horn going off. His first fire call, should he leave work or not? He started counting the horn blast. He realised “thats my neighborhood”. then “thats my street”. And finally “thats my house”. He answered the fire call. His son had been playing with matches and started a fire in a grass field. By the way my brother in law jioned the fire department years later and replaced his dad as commmissioner.

Well, probably not just :wink:

But I doubt anyone does it solely for that.

Remember the Greek philosophers? Someone can be paid in money or in prestige (and I think there was a third option, but I forget what it is). Volunteer firefighters are paid in prestige - and often in “connections” whereby they get out of parking tickets and even minor traffic violations (not legally, of course). People jump to get them a beer and listen to their stories. Women want to be with them, and men want to be them. They get to hang out with the guys setting stuff on fire and putting it out again for “training exercises”, and their wives don’t get to bitch about it.* :wink:

And a lot of them, in my experience, are the kind of people who would drive over to see a cool fire whether or not they were firefighters. They’re as gossipy as old hens, and keep their scanners on even when they’re not on duty, just to see what’s going on around town. Often you’ll have three guys “on duty” and a call for a single rig for a small fire, and you get to the fire and find a dozen other members of the team standing around because they just felt like coming to see what’s happening.

And some of them are closet arsonists, sadly. The healthier ones confine the urge to fireworks and bonfires at parties; the sickest ones may actually set the house or field fires they then go put out with the rig.

Source: my SO was a volunteer firefighter and paramedic for nearly 40 years. He still listens to his scanner, and he retired 3 years ago. :smiley:

*And yes, that paragraph is full of gender stereotypes, but so are most volunteer firehalls.

I grew up hanging out at the VFD. My father and brother were members. They got no pay at all, but indirectly their efforts helped get the community a better fire protection rating so I guess they paid less in homeowner’s insurance as a result (but so did everyone else in town). The department did not have any paid members, not even the chief. The state has a Volunteer Fire Fighter specialty license plate which members could get at the same price as a regular plate (or maybe even free? not sure) so some very minor value there.

We would regularly sleep overnight at the station. Whenever a call for service came in any members qualified to respond would jump and go. If we needed more we started making phone calls. Every shift we made calls to put together a list of members who could be on call. Membership required a certain amount of on call shifts and a certain number of duty shifts at the station. Some of our more active members for pulling station duty were retired or disabled and could not respond themselves but could make phone calls with the best of them.

The department received some funding from the county and did fundraisers for the rest. I spent many nights stuffing envelopes as a result. Department funds paid for equipment and training, though some members did buy radios and the like.

When the chief retired his son was elected. The son was still in high school at the time! The son once exercised his authority to take control of the school when a bomb threat was called in and he felt the vice principal was being less than fully cooperative. The sheriff backed him up on it. What teenager wouldn’t love that!?

We did have a few people perform court ordered community service at the fire station - cleaning, washing trucks, and such. They were never ordered to join the department and I’m not sure we would have accepted such members.

That was my experience as a Volunteer Fireman. We got $xx.00 for each call we responded to. We bought our own “under-gear” (FP hoods/gloves/socks), our turnout (outer) gear, helmet and boots were company issued. Any other supplemental gear was up to us…helmet lights, car lights etc.

ALL training was free. I got to FF II and HazMat certified.

We got paid once a year…right before Christmas. Typically $1200 or more…officers got more but were NOT full time.

FTR…the 1200$ was usually spent on replacement clothes and supplemental gear.

We used a centrally placed Storm siren and Tone alerts…radios that sent coded tones to direct us to either the Firehouse or the scene, whichever was closer or quicker to respond to.

Every department runs different…some similar and some very different.

This was in Illinois.

able bodied civic minded people volunteer. if you want fire protection for yourself, relatives and neighbors then people have to step up. local employers will try to accommodate the volunteers, it is also in their interest if they want to have fire protection for their business.

i expect that with different situations of geography and costs that fire departments have different ways they run things.

I believe it’s why they are called volunteers. I know of fire districts that have some positions paid, and others purely volunteer. I was asked to be a driver for one department, which would have included some pay for some reason having to do with insurance. Often the chief and other officers recieve some pay. Also, many departments not only do not pay, but require time spent in training, community activities, and fund raising.

If I don’t say it often enough on the SDMB, and I don’t recall saying it before, so I don’t, firefighters are the real heroes in this country, and always have been. And volunteers are at the top of the list. These are people who run *into *burning buildings to save lifes. They don’t ask questions about the politics or religion of people in there before going, and the volunteers don’t get paid. They do it because it is the right thing to do, even if it may cost them their life.

The usually get some kind of insurance and small stipend and free training and some other minor bennies.

The reality is that being a firefighter in a small community VFD is interesting and occasionally exciting enough you’d have people doing it as volunteers even if they had to pay for the privilege (and on a certain level they kind of do).

They do a lot of good but the flip side is that some (certainly not all) VFDs are very insular, cliquish, often very conservative, and sometimes quite racist.

I looked into becoming a volunteer firefighter in my small town. At that time (about 15 years ago) there was a small stipend per call. Twelve dollars from six AM to ten PM weekdays and twenty dollars the rest of the time. Training sessions also earned the stipend but classroom work and the monthly administrative meeting didn’t. The department was so small that we didn’t have any full time, paid professional firefighters but some of the senior members did pull down a small monthly income (under $50) regardless of activity.

One benefit they did get was an excellent insurance policy for death/disability paid by the city.

My Father in Law always kept his driver’s licience next to his fire badge. As far as I know he was stopped many times but only recieved a warning never a ticket.

A lot of volunteer firefighters around here are paid firefighters at other departments.

Note to self, do not purchase a used car from a volunteer fire fighter, just make a generous donation when they come around each year.