For the future firefighter who is attempting to bolster their resume and gain valuable experience to assist themselves in their future career choice as a firefighter, another valuable way to gain relevant volunteer experience (besides becoming a volunteer firefighter) is to find ways to practice and hone your EMS skills.
Many ambulance providers, private companies, associations, groups or organizations, such as the American Red Cross, local high schools or colleges, or even churches are always on the lookout for people to volunteer their time at EMS related events. At the bare minimum, they typically want someone who is certified to at least the basic CPR level, if not the Advanced First Aid level. Don’t think you need to be an EMT or a paramedic to volunteer your time; there are many different roles you can fill to gain valuable EMS experience. Since EMS responses make up 60 to 80 percent (give or take) of most fire department’s responses, it is critical to have top-notch EMS skills to offer a department when you apply as a candidate for a job, either paid or volunteer, and whether in the fire service or in the EMS service.
Also, if you are eventually looking at attending paramedic school (some fire departments only hire certified/licensed paramedics), it is paramount to have EMS experience, especially EMS experience where you have documented patient care time in some capacity, ideally on an ambulance running 911 responses, but at the bare minimum, doing some form of patient care. If you are having trouble getting hired on an ambulance company as an EMT or paramedic - something I recommend all future firefighters do - then getting volunteer EMS experience may be your foot in the door to get some type of EMS related experience on your resume.
But, if you haven’t figured it out by now, experience isn’t everything. Meaning you can have a lot of great experience on a resume to offer a fire department, but if you cannot sell yourself during the oral interview (and most candidates cannot), then all that great experience isn’t that great. Another benefit of volunteering in this capacity, just like any other capacity, is that you’ll be exposed to a lot of great people, and you’ll have the chance to network and build relationships that may last a lifetime. Even better, those people you meet and get the chance to work with in this capacity may point you in the direction of a potential job opportunity, serve as a reference, or be the one making a decision to hire or promote you at some point in the future.
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse 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.