I was wondering what the professional fire fighters here think about the prospects of a volunteer fire fighter changing professions (Agricultural Reserach for the USDA-ARS) to a full time fire-fighter. I am not very clear on how well respected volunteer fire fighters and the training that we have recieved will compare to professionals. How would this career change impact my family (wife and one year old daughter)? How are the pay, benefits, hours? I have noticed a lot of DOD fire jobs throughout the nation (US Army and Air Force for example) that I may have a decent chance of landing as I am already a Govt employee.
Thanks for advice....
As someone who did that 14 years ago, I'll tell you RUN, FORREST, RUN !!! Why do you want to be a smoke eater anyway? Go get a big money job, like real estate or a "dot com" company! 
Be careful answering DoD "fire fighter" ads... the AF uses active duty as FF's. It's most likely a poorly concealed recruiting attempt.
That said (and removed from consideration ), what type of job are you looking at?
The .gov does operate many FD's - most are on military bases, many are civilian. The guys are GS employees, but with a few exceptions work a "24/24" schedule. 24 hours on, 24 off - the rotation @ NTC GLakes was for 7 duty shifts, then you'd get 1 duty day off - so you days off rotated through the days of the week until your schedule started again. Eventually you'd get a friday day off backing up to a sunday day off - it was referred to as a "5 day".
The .gov also operates the DCFD, and many FD's at VA hospitals / homes - their schedule varies.
They also have FF's with the BLM (Wildland FF's), but getting a F/T year-round gig is almost impossible...most of the BLM FF's are seasonal employees. Some states also have FD's that are at airports or other state installations, or wildland FF's assigned to their forestry department (CDF). Once again, the wildland FF gigs are usually seasonal.
Many counties have FD's with a variety of duties.
The "most common" FD is a municipal FD, followed by a department that is operated by a Fire Protection District. While both are "FD's", the FPD is a separate agency (taxing body) and while it may serve (and share the name with) a city, it's technically separate.
In northern IL, most muni/FPD FD's work a "24/48" schedule - 24 hours on, 48 off. "Kelly" days (a regular scheduled day off to accomodate FLSA regs) vary from 1 every 5 to 1 every 11 shifts.
Pay? While not like the wheelbarrows full of cash they freely hand to our bros in the PD side (ROFL) it's OK... but it varies wildly, based on region (of the country), cost of living for the area, area served (tax base), services provided, and what are called "comparables" (contract language meaning similar FD's with similar economic bas & services provided). There are also differences in pay for FF's, Engineers, FF/medics, HAZMAT techs, rescue geeks, etc.
Services provided - does the FD provide EMS (ambulance service)? "First responder", EMT, "I", or Paramedic? Are they response only, or response and transport?
Bennies also vary madly - most will provide you with some form of pension (20 years / 50% @ 50 years of age here in IL) - IIRC fedgov has gone to a "Thrift Savings Plan" where basically you invest for your own retirement - the gov doesn't offer new GS employees a traditional pension anymore.
Please take the time to go through BOTS and check the threads - others have asked similar questions. Your VFD experience and training should help you in your career search.
Admittedly, most big city FD's (NYC, CHI, LA, Dallas) will still make you go through their academy to learn their methods, if you have training to "x" accepted standard in your state (FF II in IL), if you get hired by an agency that recognizes it (best if it's in the same state) it can be a plus for you - it's one new guy that's one step closer to being usable on the street, as opposed to a true "newb" with zerp experience who doesn't know a fire from a hole in the ground. Most of the FF's I know have either prior .mil or VFD experience, and most of the guys left .mil FD's for more action / better pay / fewer hours on the municipal side. The guys who stayed either couldn't get hired on a muni dept. ( no comment ) or had been in the service for a long enough time earlier where the ability to credit active duty mattered enough to stay.
Any questions feel free to IM me.
Wow! Good post and thanks for the advice. I will PM the job vacany to you.....
Tango...you are killin me here bro. I never got issued a wheelbarrow!
Your VOL experience is a resume enhancer, as are any other qualifications in the fire/ems/military service. The pay basically sucks , but the way i see it, im there one third of the calender days....plenty of time for other funds to be aquired doing other stuff. Not many firefighters that dont have side gigs...except those rich boy officers that started this job in a 1960s high eagle.Here
Benefits arent that bad, as stated above, start a 457 package for yourself.....or roll any 401k smonies into the 457 system if applicable. The IAFF and your state association offers additional benefits if that applies to you aswell. (Not pushing IAFF, but wont deny its out there to take advantage of)
Regards to the change of schedule with your family....that impacts individual families in different ways. Are you the only one that prepares the bills? Are you the only one that can do "midnight plumbing"? Basically the tasks you normally do that your wife doesnt...are those able to be put off for a day? You will be able to call home and say goodnight, assuming your firehouse officer is a family guy...having mom and daughter stop by isnt discouraged.
The 24 on 48 off is my schedule...she loves it. Gives her a break from me every 3 days hings
Another good post. You guys are doing awsome!!
Another plus for the 24/48 is the ability for most FF's to get into a side gig... or resume their previous trade after finishing the academy & any schools. As an example, I'm an electrician, I work with a landscaper, a professional painter, 3 handymen, an auto body guy, 2 concrete finishers and a plumber.
[aside} Hey Sheep - sorry about no wheelbarrow... your back must be killin' ya, havin' to lug the cash home in the bank sacks [/aside]
No...the problem is stuffing all them sacks into my Ferrari. Do you know how indignant they get over there in Italy when I call them up and ask for a custom trailer for my 360 Modena to haul my loot around in? You'd think it was sacrelige or somethin'.
I was a vol FF/Paramedic before I was a cop and for a while still did vol FF work while I was a cop in Il.
I think the advice given has been pretty good. See if you can find a Vol. shop and get on with them. An excellent way to get free training and experience.
One of my best friend's is a full-time FF with a suburban Il dept. His side gig is as an RN and he's looking to bump that up to flight nurse.
The 24/48 gives you tremendous flexibilty. If I were't well over half way to pension, I'd seriously thing about jumping the fence.
One thing is....around here, they sometimes shoot at the FD. Sucks not being able to shoot back.
+1 to most of what Tango7 posted.
IT GREATLY DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU ARE...things operate differently everywhere.
I work for a "Fire District" that is the sole provider of fire/EMS in a fairly large county.
We work 24/48 sched, with Kelly days (6 week at the moment, but we will be going to 3 week Kellys under our new contract).
Our benefits (insurance, etc.) are good, and we have City, and County retirement.
I am a paramedic/FF with 9 years at this department, and I am making just under $60,000 / yr
Our pay is "middle of the road" for Florida.
The trend with many career FDs that provide EMS is now to require ALL new applicants to be paramedics (or become paramedics shortly after being hired).
All 15 stations have an ALS ambulance, and a fire apparatus (engine, ladder, or quint), along with a brush truck.
90% of our run volume is EMS.
Everyone at my department is at least an EMT, and the paramedic route was optional until about 3 years ago (now probies sign a contract that says they are a paramedic within 3 years, or they are gone)...The District pays for the schooling.
There are no volunteers in this county, but it looks good on your application (as does military service)
edited to add: The 24/48 schedule is great, but often your first day off is spent recovering from your shift (we regularly run between 15-25 calls in a shift, and each EMS transport is good for 2 hours of time)
I would like to re-locate my family to Indiana, Ohio, or Kentucky. I have over three years experience as a wild land firefighter with the USFS and I signed on to the City of Burns Vol Fire Dept in 2001. I called the State of Oregon and I have my firefighter I certification. My only concern is that I don't have exerperience as an EMT (or really anything associated with ambulance operations). I just don't know how good my chances are in this very competitive field.
Are you a certified EMT that just does not have any experience, or do you mean you are not an EMT?
Either way...get your EMT cert (if you dont have it) and apply for the job.
Your other experience should help you.
We routinely hire rookies who have ZERO field experience in ANYTHING, other than what they learned in their training classes
Let me clarify,
I have no experience with ambulance operations (except that I am trained with loading a patient on to backboard and placing same person into ambulance).
I do not have my EMT certification.
My experience with VFD is mainly with putting fires out and SAR in structures.
Same applies to here. We find it easier to train someone with no experience or moderate exposure to the fire service than it is to train the 5-10 year guy. "Well we didnt do it that way at my other department" You will be trained "Our Way" in class, granted somethings may not be the best way..but they are there to give you a general knowledge of each topic. You show you are trainable and committed by obtaining FF Level 1. I wasn't an EMT before I got hired either, I didnt like the medical aspect....I wanted to be a firefighter!. After all the training and getting involved...I enjoy it believe it or not.
Waiting to apply when you have your EMT-Basic certificate may or may not be beneficial for you. The hiring process is all about what they are looking for THAT DAY....speaking for this department....that changes everytime. If the applications are being accepted soon, apply with what you have now.....you never know.
One aspect of the hiring process that frustrates me (at least on those jobs that I have looked at thus far) is that you are expected to show up in person and pick up the application. How am i supposed to do that when I live half way across the country and what to move into a different region?
Law enforcement and the Fire Services are in the stone ages when it comes to recruitment and personnel retention.
Law enforcement is starting to change...slowly. Fire service, on the other hand...
Part of it is the testing process. It's simply easier to test only local folks, since a large part of them are going to get weeded-out in either the written or the phys. I know that our written test (for L.E.) has a about a 60% pass rate. Pretty fucking sad considereing that it's a basic reading, writting, arithmatic and logic test. Why spend the money to mail Apps out of state when you have a large pool locally who can fail the test just as easy as a guy from another state?
Moving from Chicago P.D. to the PD I now work for was a huge hassle. Loss of all seniority, massive pay cut, yada yada yada. It sucks, but that's the way it is.
Lots of full-time departments in all three states - a consideration for you is big city (Cincy, Cleveland, Indy, Lexington) or maybe a smaller suburban type department. There are also several .mil bases with potential GS / civilian FD's on them - you'll have to call the base Office of Civilian Personnel Management and ask. Be prepared, though - with the BRAC hearings, a lot of GS FF's are gonna be relocating with "closer list" credits, and they're ahead of any non .mil hires.
Just from a quick Googling:
Indiana Fire Departments
Ohio Fire Departments
Kentucky Fire Depatments
As others here have posted - every little but helps.
You should probably called the various State Fire Marshal offices for the three states you're looking at and see if they offer reciprocity for your FF cert. It's not like NATREG - some states carry over, many don't.
(After seeing your post about not having EMT) Consider evening classes @ the local community / "Junior" college or a local hospital. EMT should be about 4-6 months, 2 nights/week. If you take the National Registry test, most states will accept it for their own cert. See if your FD will pay for it - if not, it's about $500 (not sure about the $ amount - hell, I paid $150 back in the day [)
Are you in decent physical shape? Be Honest.
Are you under 35? Some states allow you to be older w/ prior .mil or full time FD service, but the "usual" cutoff is 35.
Where are you willing to work? (different than the above question)
Some FD's don't get a lot of apps due to lower pay, fewer bennies, working conditions or demographics. My FD only had 50 some apps this time - about usual - due to the 15 mile residency requirement, the fact that the town has a reputaion as an "economically underpriveledged area" , the fact the the town isn't one of it's upscale $$$ neighbors, and doesn't pay terrifically. But we attract folks who want to really do the job and deal with fires, gunshots, and OD's - not just drive around in new rigs and paint hydrants. We also have had several folks who earned their "street creds" here, then moved to one of the "wealthier" departments once they thought they'd "seen enough" to talk the talk.
Yes, as Sheep has said, the hiring process sucks. But it's also a silent factor in the "weeding" process. Based off a rough recollection of our own tests over the past 7 cycles I've been involved in (as candidate or proctor), we'll apply the "Johnson 15% rule" - named for a fomer FF who left to pursue a career in law.
Say 150 people call about the "Notice of Examination" in the paper. Not all FD's are on the Interweb, so you can;t rely on online notices.
120 people actually pony up the "application fee".
102 actually answered all the questions on the application completely, or signed the app, or provided the required supporting docs (DL, birth cert.) People will show up for the mandatory "Orientation session" (of course there are always a few who show up late, claiming any number of excuses. If the Board is mean, they'll let the folks sit through the BS session, then tell 'em they DQ'd when they show up for the next part )
85 folks show up for the physical agility test a week later. (see above about tardy people)
65 pass it.
60 show up for the written exam (once again, folks will show up late, and then get DQ'd)
50 will be eligible for the oral interview stage...
40 or so will actually make "the list". Anybody who FTA's is simply another "maybe" that got culled.
If you can actually a) follow the specified instructions, and b) make the required appearances, you're ahead of most of the folks.
Sad but true.
Thanks for all the help fellas. I will look into getting my emt here and adding it to my resume.
Great idea... but don't let it backfire on you.
I've had a couple of buddies who walked into career interviews with their veritable stack of fire/rescue/ems certs (in VA, the Department of Fire Programs regulates training for both volunteer and career, and the certificates/requirements are the same). When the BC began the interview, the guys apparently kept on about all the "volunteer experience" they had. Cost them the interview and the job. Sad too, b/c there were some incredible FF's in the group.
Remember, the FD can (and will) teach you all the skills you need to know in the academy. What they're looking for is not the Superman of firefighters, but an intelligent, honest, hardworking guy who is trainable, dependable, and reliable, that they can TEACH to be a firefighter. Granted, I'm not on any recruiting board, but I've gone through my fair share of interviews (one of which, though interrupted by the GWOT, will hopefully pay off soon!!!), and this is what I've gathered as an applicant. Oh, and have a clean driving record
+1 to getting your EMT, +1,000 to getting your ALS certification. In the increasing EMS nature of the FF/Medic, ALS is the money maker and the key to the FD's survival. Structure fires will always exist, people will always do dumbass shit, and the occasional act of God will happen. But EMS is how a 200 member FD justifies its Millions-A-Year budget to the county/city/state supervisors. Having ALS certification will most definitely make you a more attractive candidate, even for non-transport agencies.
+1 on checking into ProBoard certification. Many states are not pro-board certified, and while they teach most of the same materials, the certs arent transferable. Be advised, however, that most departments with their own academy will make you go through it ALL over again, even if you're already certified as a FF2, Instructor 3, etc etc. Often this is to teach their SOPs, their mentality in fighting fires, their dept's mission statement, and to ensure you didn't forget something simple from your FFI class 10 years ago.
Also, check into the retirement schemes. Here in VA, we have a state retirement program which includes FF's and PD. The good part about it is that you can switch from any participating agency (there are only 4 who don't participate) to any other agency, be it PD or FD, and retain your retirement package. That's a pretty slick deal, that's not available to most in the nation.
Just some thoughts.
The above post mentioned ALS certification, what exactly is it? Im interested in firefighting after I complete my degree. Next summer im planning on getting my EMT-B at a technical school, but ive never heard of the ALS cert. Could someone clarify? thanks
ALS refers to Advanced Life Support. It is the upper levels of the non-flight prehospital management system. Usually ALS is marked by the permission and training to perform invasive procedures such as intubation and IV therapy, also drug therapy and cardiac care. The most common and well-known ALS certification is EMT-P(aramedic). If you follow the National Registry of EMT's guidelines, you have three levels- EMT-Basic (BLS), EMT-Intermediate (ALS), and EMT-Paramedic (ALS). Some states have differing skill/practice levels, usually differing in what skills are able to be performed or medications administered. Most states uphold the NREMT-P standards for paramedic, AFAIK.
Hope this clears things up a little.