Editor's note: Steve will lead the Future Firefighter Experience at Firehouse World, Feb. 19-20, in San Diego.
The focus of this article is not necessarily on becoming a volunteer firefighter, which so many candidates think they have to do to get a foot in the door. The terms volunteer experience and community service are typically synonymous with each other. Do not think you must have fire or EMS related volunteer experience to successfully get hired as a firefighter. Many candidates get hired every day without having volunteered for a fire department or ambulance company. While this specific experience is very beneficial, not everyone is fortunate enough to have a local fire department or ambulance company looking to pick you up as a volunteer.
Even if you do have fire or EMS related volunteer experience, I also encourage you to get non-fire or non-EMS related volunteer experience. Why? Because doing so helps make you stick out in a unique way. It is not uncommon to find many candidates applying for a position at a fire department all having fire or EMS related volunteer experience. After the first few candidates, they all tend to look the same. Not that this is a bad thing, but the oral board is looking for unique candidates that may bring a different perspective to the fire service. One way to bring a different perspective is to have non-fire or EMS related volunteer experience to offer.
There are many non-fire or EMS related ways to volunteer your time. Examples can include, but are not limited to: homeless shelters, soup kitchens, local churches, your local city or county governmental center (recreational or activity programs for youths or seniors), your local public or private school (pre-school, elementary, middle, high, or even college), local or national organizations or associations that cater to people in need, cleaning up your community, and anything else you can think of that does not pay you or provide you with any benefits.
Why is volunteer work or community service so important you may wonder? Many fire departments will ask a question during the oral interview and even the chief’s interview (second-level interview of a select few candidates being strongly considered for employment) to the effect of: “what type of volunteer or community service work do you currently perform?” Not having an answer to that question will doom your chances of getting hired; you either have an answer or you don’t have an answer. Smart and successful firefighter candidates have already prepared for that oral interview question by volunteering their time.
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, has over 20 years of fire service experience, currently serving as a deputy chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. He is also an instructor for the Fire Technology Program at Chabot College in Hayward, CA,and is a former president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. Steve was named the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the Year. He has earned a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and an associate's degree in Fire Technology. Steve has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, and received Chief Fire Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events and conferences across the country and recently published three books: How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional Exams, Reach for the Firefighter Badge, and The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide, all of which are available on his websites: www.chabotfire.com and www.code3firetraining.com.