Volunteer fire department

This article is about firefighting. For the Volunteer Fire Department in A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, see V.F.D.
See also the Firefighter article and its sections regarding VFDs in other countries.
The volunteer fire department of Swepsonville, North Carolina

A volunteer fire department (VFD) is a fire department composed of volunteers who perform fire suppression and other related emergency services for a local jurisdiction.

The first large organized force of firefighters was the Corps of Vigiles, established in ancient Rome in 6 AD.

The term "volunteer" contrasts with career firefighters who are fully compensated for their services. Some volunteer firefighters may be part of a combination fire department that utilizes both full-time and volunteer firefighters. In this way, a station can be staffed 24 hours between volunteer and career firefighters. Both provide essential staffing on apparatuses during their assigned staffing hours.[1][2]

The term "volunteer" may also be used in reference to a group of part-time or on-call firefighters who may have other occupations when not engaged in occasional firefighting. Although they may have "volunteered" to become members, and to respond to the call for help, they are compensated as employees during the time they are responding to or attending an emergency scene, and possibly for training. An on-call firefighter may also volunteer time for other non-emergency duties as well (training, fundraising, equipment maintenance, etc.).

Volunteer firefighters go through the same training as career personnel do. When volunteers join a department, they sign up for a Firefighter classes that teach them what they need to know to become a volunteer firefighter.



Throughout Australia there are many volunteer firefighting agencies which are set up by the individual states or territories. New South Wales is serviced by two statutory firefighting authorities. These are the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS) and Fire and Rescue NSW. Fire and Rescue NSW has firefighting and rescue responsibilities for the major cities, metropolitan areas and several other towns in NSW. It also has the responsibility for all land based HAZMAT incidents as well as inland waterway based HAZMAT incidents. The NSWRFS is the volunteer firefighting service in NSW and consists of over 70,000 volunteers and has responsibility for over 90% of the land area in NSW. Although most of this is bush and grass land, the NSWRFS also serve smaller and regional communities that are not covered by Fire and Rescue NSW. Despite some overlapping in firefighting coverage/resources by both services it should be noted that the NSWRFS does not provide rescue or HAZMAT services in the State.

In Victoria, there are three main fire fighting organisations, Metropolitan Fire and Emergency Services Board (MFB), Country Fire Authority (CFA) and The Department of Environment, Water, Land, and Planning (DEWLP). The CFA is a volunteer and community based fire and emergency services organisation that is made up of around 61,000 members. Of these members, some 59,000 are volunteers See CFA Website. Their roles range from fire, rescue, HAZMAT, to non-operational support roles.

In Western Australia, fire fighting is organised by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) together with Local Councils. DFES operate the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service Brigades (VFRS) and some Bush Fire Service Brigades (BFS), while the remainder of the Bush Fire Service Brigades are trained by DFES, but operated and administrated by the Council of the associated area. VFRS Brigades are generally more involved in Structural Fire fighting, Asset Protection and Road Crash Rescue depending on their location, whereas the BFS Brigades are generally more involved in Wildfire Fighting. In Western Australia there is an estimated 31,000 BFS Members among 585 Brigades,[3] and 2,000 VFRS Members among 88 Brigades.[4]

In South Australia, there are two legislated fire fighting organisations. The South Australian Metropolitan Fire Service (SAMFS) and the South Australian Country Fire Service (SACFS). The SACFS is staffed by approximately 13,500 volunteer fire fighters and around 120 paid employees.[5]

Austria and Germany

Volunteer fire departments are providing the majority (97% of all German fire fighters) of Austria's and Germany's civil protection services, alongside other volunteer organizations like the Federal Civil Protection Agency (THW), voluntary ambulance services and emergency medical or rescue services like German Red Cross or Johanniter-Unfall-Hilfe. In most rural fire departments, the staff consists only of volunteers. The members of these departments are usually on-call 24/7 and working in other professions.

The alarm can be performed by different alarm systems, such as by sirens or Pager. In Germany, the alarm via radio pager is on the frequencies of the BOS radio. In Austria, the fire departments have their own frequencies.

In medium-sized cities and communities, fire departments will often be partially staffed by career firefighters. They ensure the rapid availability of some of the department's fire apparatus, with the remaining apparatus staffed and brought to the scene of the emergency by volunteers as soon as they arrive at the department.

Larger cities, typically those with 100,000 inhabitants or more, will operate fire departments staffed entirely by career firefighters. However, they also typically have several volunteer fire departments, who are called upon in case of larger emergencies.

Municipalities are the support of volunteer fire departments. Additional funding may include, for example, contributions from support organizations, donations made in fundraising or income from various events.


Volunteer fire departments are mostly found in rural and remote areas of Canada, with 127,000 such firefighters across the country.[6] Most urban and larger fire services began as volunteer service and evolved into full-time members. Volunteer departments are necessary for areas that cannot afford to staff a full-time department.


Volunteer firefighters from Argentina is a group of firefighters that provides pro bono service to Argentina.

Its beginning goes back when an Italian immigrant Tomas Liberti, the neighborhood of La Boca created June 2, 1884 the first volunteer fire department in the country, the headquarters was established in street Brandsen to 567, under the theme, in Genoese, "Volere e Potere", which in English mean "Willing is to be able". The date above is taken as the Day of Volunteer Firefighter.

There are approximately 720 fire departments in Argentina, in total have 40,000 troops, both men and women. It all started when a fire broke out in the neighborhood of La Boca, there appeared the young Thomas Liberti, who brought together a group of people filled the fly and threw buckets of water-filled on the river-the burning building. After the victorious episode, the Liberti family convened a group of neighbors to communicate the need for a fire department in the neighborhood of La Boca, as most of the houses were built of wood and zinc. From that moment were created several fire companies throughout the country in cities such as Ensenada, San Fernando, Avellaneda, more later in Ingeniero White, Lomas de Zamora and Tigre, composed of civilians.

The first fire as firefighters faced was in a candle factory in South Barracks, on November 14, 1885.'s Capital ceded the body two pumps steam, were named José Fernández (local MP) and Argentina.

It was created on February 1, 1954 the Argentina Federation of Volunteer Firefighters for existing nuclear organizations, was officially recognized by the law 14.467 in 1958.

The first Congress was held in Volunteer Firefighters Lanús the September 25, 1954. The second congress was held in June 1960, while the 31 May and the first two days of June 1974 the Third Congress concrete the participation of two hundred sixteen Volunteer Fire Companies.



In Chile, all fire departments are a 100% volunteer, this is the only country in the world that no firefighter gets paid, however they have the higher service standards in the region. Since Valparaiso's Mega Fire on April 2014 a long debate has been going on whether firefighters should be paid. Surprisingly Chilean firefighters do not want to get paid[7] as they state is the only way of keeping a service of full and real social commitment. The fire departments are part of the Junta Nacional de Bomberos or National Board of Firefighters.


In Finland the firefighting in the countryside mostly depends on volunteer fire departments, nearly always with a contract with the regional emergency authorities (or, formerly and in Åland, the municipality). There are volunteer fire departments also in cities, but there with a minor role.

Republic of Ireland

The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in the Republic of Ireland is a branch of the national civil defence organisation. The service is usually only called upon for flooding incidents, emergency water supply and large-scale incidents where the resources of front-line fire brigades are stretched.[8]


In Nicaragua there are three different groups of firefighters, one ruled by the Direccion General de Bomberos 18 fire station which has government support and the other two Federación de Cuerpos de Bomberos de Nicaragua Benemeritos with 8 fire station and Asociacion civil Cuerpo de BOMBEROS Voluntarios de Nicaragua 24 fire station are volunteers firefighters around the Country.


State Fire Service (Polish: Państwowa Straż Pożarna) is a professional firefighting service that covers whole territory from their stations in cities and towns. In rural areas however, local inhabitants may create a Voluntary Fire Service (Ochotnicza Straż Pożarna) under proper law. Such volunteer fire service may receive a financial help from the government for the equipment and staff training. In certain areas of Poland almost every village has a volunteer fire service because members of such enjoy high respect in their community. On the other hand, volunteer fire service is fully integrated with the emergency system. Any call to fire emergency number is routed to the nearest State Fire Service station which firstly deploys the nearest volunteer fire service and later aids them with the state forces.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom there is no "volunteer" fire departments, however there are retained stations that are part of Fire and rescue services, one for example is Hereford and Worcester Fire and rescue service which has upwards on 15 retained stations to supplement its wholetime stations, there is no divide between the two types of firefighters as they are paid the same and also get the same training so they are in the same level except one is wholetime and the other is on call, which is different to America as they have separate departments for the two types. The Auxiliary Fire Service is now disbanded, but part-time members of fire brigades who man smaller, often rural, stations are known as retained firefighters. Retained firefighters are fully trained, paid personnel who provide cover on top of their regular jobs and live in the vicinity of a fire station. The only volunteer fire station is in Peterborough, England, this is manned by the Peterborough Volunteer Fire Brigade although these are also paid, This fire station whilst operating like a Retained unit is contracted to provide a service to the Cambridgeshire Fire Service. There is also Borth Volunteer Fire Station, near Aberystwyth, Wales again these are all paid and not volunteer.

All "volunteer" Firefighters in the U.K. are paid and do NOT do this voluntarily as in other countries.

United States

A volunteer firefighter stands to the edge of a road.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, 69 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.[9] The National Volunteer Fire Council represents the fire and emergency services on a national level, providing advocacy, information, resources, and programs to support volunteer first responders. The NVFC includes 49 state-based firefighter associations such as the Firemen's Association of the State of New York (FASNY), which provides information, education and training for the volunteer fire and emergency medical services throughout New York State.

In the United States, the Department of Labor classifies volunteer firefighters as firefighters that receive no compensation or nominal fees up to 20% of the compensation a full-time firefighter would receive in the same capacity.[10] The DOL allows volunteer firefighters to receive benefits such as worker's compensation, health insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, pension plans, length of service awards, and property tax relief. DOL-defined volunteer firefighters may be paid nominal fees on a per call basis, per shift basis, or various service requirements, but may not be compensated based on productivity such as with an hourly wage.

The terms "part paid" and "paid on-call" refer to firefighters that are receiving some compensation less than the compensation a full-time firefighter would receive. It may often refer to volunteer firefighters that do not qualify as volunteers under the United States Department of Labor. They may also volunteer time for training, public education, fund-raising, and other non-emergency department related activities.

Financial support

Two Demorest, Georgia volunteer fire fighters respond to an emergency call.

A VFD may be financially supported by taxes raised in a city, town, county, fire district, or other governmental entity, as well as corporate and other private donations, federal grants, and other assistance from auxiliary members, or firefighters' associations.

With these funds the VFD acquires and operates the firefighting apparatus, equips and trains the firefighters, maintains the firehouse, and possibly also covers insurance, worker's compensation, and other post-injury or retirement benefits. A VFD (or its governing entity) may also contract with other nearby departments to cover each other in a mutual aid (or automatic aid) pact as a means for assisting each other with equipment and manpower, when necessary.

Expanded duties

Depending upon the location and availability of other services, a VFD may be responsible for controlling structure fires as well as forest fires. Because it may be the only emergency services department for some distance, a rural VFD may also be fortunate to include community first responders, emergency medical technicians, Hazardous Materials response, and other specially qualified rescue personnel. Law enforcement officers may also be trained in these related duties and overlap with the VFD. The VFD may also have duties as the local fire inspectors, arson investigators, and as fire safety and prevention education, in addition to being the local civil defense or disaster relief liaison.

Emergency response

The Swepsonville Volunteer Fire Department responding to a call.

A volunteer fire department is normally reached the same way as other emergency services, such as by calling 9-1-1 or 1-1-2. A central dispatcher then calls out the VFD, often through equipment such as pagers, radios, or loud signals, such as a fire siren. Average response times may be longer than with full-time services because the members must come from different distances to the station or to the incident. However, there is a possibility that more firefighters may arrive at an incident with a volunteer department, as compared to paid departments. Such departments often have a fixed number of firefighters on staff at any given point in time, which sometimes equals the minimal numbers recommended. Some states allow the use of Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPS) to provide these volunteer departments with a tool to assist in recruiting and retaining members. LOSAPS are simple programs that can be implemented with minimal taxpayer expense.

Some volunteer fire departments allow the use of Courtesy lights or emergency lights and sirens by its members. In most states that allow both lights and sirens, this is a red light and siren that gives the responding member the same privileges as other emergency vehicles.[11] In other jurisdictions, this may be a green or blue light without a siren. [12] The use of such equipment varies from fire district to fire district based on need for fast response, distance that members live from the fire station, the size and amount of other traffic in the fire district as well as local and state law. Some departments restrict or prohibit use of such emergency lights, even when allowed by state law, due to the increased risk of traffic accidents involving volunteers responding in emergency mode. In some states, volunteer firefighters and EMTs are eligible to receive specialty license plates for personal vehicles that identify them as trained emergency services personnel.


Volunteer fire fighters participate in a vehicle extrication demonstration and training at a volunteer fire department open house

Operational volunteer fire department members receive some form of training, either in a formal or informal setting, this depends on the state and regulatory authority. The level and type of basic and specialty training varies across the country. Many volunteer fire departments have training programs equal to that of paid departments. New members are referred to as "recruits," "rookies," "probies" (short for "probationary"), or even "red hats" in some departments that require the recruit to wear special gear or markings (such as a red helmet in some departments) to denote their ranking. Some departments allow (or even require) new recruits to ride along on fire apparatus as observers before undergoing the rigors of further fire training.

Specialty training can include wildland firefighting, technical rescue, swift water rescue, hazardous materials response, vehicle extrication, FAST team, and others.

Open house

A VFD may hold an "open house" at their station. The event serves many purposes including demonstration, training, drill, fundraising and recruitment. There is no particular format for the VFD open house. It can be formal or informal. The goal is to get public involvement in the VFD efforts. It is recommended that the open house should include demonstrations of equipment and show and tell. This allows the public to understand how the volunteers are organized in their local community and it is used as a public relations tool. The combination of demonstrations and drills allow the public and prospect volunteers to see volunteer fire fighters in action while they are participating in the practices.[13]

See also


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