Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter Can Offer Valuable Experience

Gaining experience as a volunteer firefighter can help set you up for success in advance and make you better for the future.


For those of you that have been thinking about taking a volunteer/reserve/auxiliary firefighter test with the hopes of getting experience and exposure to help get you a full-time firefighter position, please read this information carefully - you just might benefit from it. A while ago, I had the...


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For those of you that have been thinking about taking a volunteer/reserve/auxiliary firefighter test with the hopes of getting experience and exposure to help get you a full-time firefighter position, please read this information carefully - you just might benefit from it.

A while ago, I had the pleasure of coordinating our volunteer/reserve firefighter testing process. We were looking at picking up 12 people out of about 200 plus applicants. Good odds you might say to yourself - even better once you hear what I have to say...

Our department typically picks up about 10 to 15 volunteer firefighters every couple of years. We have a maximum number of 40 spots to support our almost 300 paid personnel. Our volunteers are mostly support personnel at the scene; they respond to the scene and then meet up with the incident commander (IC) to get an assignment. They do not drive apparatus, although they are expected to do ride alongs, make a certain percentage of responses (first alarm or greater incidents), and make a certain percentage of training sessions.

Out of about 200 applications filed, we accepted about 150 or so to continue. The ones that got round-filed did so because they were not meeting geographical requirements for the most part. Those 150 or so accepted applications then proceeded to the next phase - the physical ability test (PAT). Of those 150 or so, only about 80 successfully made it through the PAT. Some were no shows, some didn't make the time standard, some couldn't even finish and a couple got transported (yes, transported by ambulance). Those 80 or so then went to the oral interviews.

Here is where I want to make some comments, specifically about our PAT and the almost 50 percent failure rate. Many of our volunteers and paid personnel were asking why so many didn't pass. Did the time change? Did the events change? No, no. This was the same test I took and most of them took, especially if they were hired within the last 12 years. But why the failures? Why the transports? Here are my thoughts to learn from:

First of all, this was the first firefighter test for many people. I truly don't think they knew what they were getting into. I bet they do now...

Second, studies have shown that a good number of the U.S. population is overweight (more so than the past, or so they say). I asked many that failed if they were in shape or had worked out for such an event and the answer was no...

Third, many candidates did not take the process as serious as they would have had it been a full-time firefighter position. Remember, the law, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and most importantly fire, do not discriminate between paid and volunteer positions. All firefighters are required and expected to do the same duties and be held to the same standards (whether they are or not is a different story).

Fourth, many candidates either ate too much prior to the PAT, did not properly hydrate before the PAT, or did not properly eat the night before.

Fifth, some candidates arrived late. Oops. The letter we sent out said to arrive at least 30 minutes prior so that they can register. One candidate showed up at 8:05, 35 minutes after he was supposed to be there. I tactfully told him that he would not be able to continue because he did not follow directions and it is paramount that firefighters follow directions. I made sure I was tactful and respectful and he actually seemed to take it pretty well. Another candidate showed up 45 minutes late, giving the excuse that he was on the wrong street. Once again, I gave him the polite "thanks, but no thanks speech" and advised him he could have prevented this by leaving plenty of time to arrive (expect traffic, car problems, etc.) and if he had driven to the location at least a day prior so that he would have know where to go.

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