a volunteer fire dept. become a salary paying dept.? I am honestly curious as to how this transition can happen and thought I'd finally ask it here. Being new in the fire service and currently a volunteer firefighter, I'm learning a lot of new things all at once. One thing that has often got me wondering is how did an all volunteer dept. go from that to being able to pay each person on staff. I understand it doesn't happen overnight but I am intrigued as to the process it took to get there. I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with this. Thanks!

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Aileen, Welcome to Firefighter Nation and best of luck in your new career (hoping you pursue it).

Every department transition is different. One of the more common scenarios is when a small city decides they need more consistent coverage and the city council budgets money to operate the fire department. First, the city needs to either own the department's assets or sign a contract with the department somehow guaranteeing them funds to operate. My department is a separate entity, not connected in any way financially to the city, so that would be the first step. Only then could the department begin the hiring process. Every employee would then be paid wages or salary and be offered benefits, a huge investment. A neighboring department near here is now paid per call, meaning each person gets paid a few dollars for each call they answer. The city owns some of their assets, so they may become a combination department soon, which would be partly full-time (one engine company maybe 8-5 Monday through Friday) and partly volunteer paid per call.

It's usually a gradual process.



Thanks for the welcome! Yes, I am pursuing it full force. I am wondering would it be the same for a fire district as opposed to a fire department? Seeing as the two get their funding two separate ways.

Too many variables to be able to answer the question. In the most basic terms, the reason you see a transition from all volunteer, to a paid career typically deals with several common factors.

1. Increased population growth....more people, more demand for services

2. Increased development.....In conjunction with population growth, but more buildings/jobs/housing...again increased demand

3. Loss of volunteers....Sometimes this is because the community sees more people commuting for work or too busy with family to be able to volunteer.

4. Increased training demands...Again in conjunction with the previous, people either don't have, or won't commit the time it takes to volunteer.

5. Changing demographics.....Aging population, influx of commuters into a suburban area, lack of people to respond, and so forth.

6. Time committment challenges.....For some there is little to no incentive to volunteer, or they are too involved elsewhere to be able to committ.


Typically a dept does not go from volunteer to career overnight, instead the transition tends to be gradual. For most, it becomes a dept seeing an influx of population and changing demographics, thus seeing an increase for demand that spurs the hiring of fulltimers or increasing incentives. Usually the first step from all volunteer is becoming a paid on call dept....where one is paid for calls they respond to, trainings they attend, etc. The actual "true" volunteer, is quite a rarity today, most "volunteer" depts are actually paid on call.

From a paid on call aspect, this can delve into a more part-time aspect where volunteers sign up for shifts, as opposed to just answering a pager. For some depts those on "shift" are the ones to respond to calls like alarm soundings etc, as opposed to whoever shows up. Such setups can then further delve into having a couple fulltime personnel that work any variety of schedules....either a typical 8 hour 9-5 day, 10 hour days, 12 hour days, 24 hour shifts, etc.....it varies. Those fulltimers would respond to most calls and await volunteers to arrive to supplement. As demand for services increase and volunteers have difficulty with making calls, one may start to see more and more FT personnel hired and eventually see a full changeover to a career dept.



With a fire district to dept, it may differ to a point, but the concept is the same. While a district funding is across several communities, the same challenges exist as if it were a single dept. If community A and B sees an influx for demand, you may see those stations of a fire district become staffed with some fulltimers while other areas still rely moreso on volunteers. So if community A and B are growing and community C is not, those volunteer depts in A and B may start to get overwhelmed and look to hire fulltime. This typically would mean community A and B would pay more to the district than those in community C. The biggest difference is that Community A and B still would not be paying as much as they would in a fire district than if they were a stand alone dept, since costs are still shared.

One thing is our county is still a combination fire service but at one time it was a all volunteer service. Our career service started with volunteer companies hiring volunteers from other volunteer companies to be paid personnel during the day while volunteers were working away from their area.

The county took the personnel that were working for the fire companies in the late 60s and made them  county fire service personnel who also became members of the AFL-CIO unions.

There has been a on going build up of the career side compared to the volunteer side but one thing that gets in the way is what money the county has coming into to hire new personnel plus buy new apparatus and sometime in the future to build stations in areas where stations are needed and replace stations that are beyond repairs or don't meet safety requirements for personnel or the public.



Great reply! Thank you. It is late where I am so the brain is already settling into rest mode. I'm sure I'll have more questions/comments related to your reply at a later time. Thanks for taking the time to add to the discussion.


Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. Truly appreciate it.

To add a little more on the subject of districts... Our emergency service district is an area in which the residents pay extra taxes to fund fire protection, so the district started getting money the year following the election during which the proposal passed. In that regard the process happened faster than the usual transition from volunteer to paid. Within one year there was a large sum of new money. However, every department in the district is still all volunteer. That may change during the next couple of years as one department wants to become a combination department.

Again, like John said, every department and every district is in a different situation, so it's impossible to predict what will happen in your area from our point of view. Just ask lots of questions of the senior officers in your department and keep your ear to the ground. Make your intentions clear. Good luck!

Thanks Norm. I wasn't looking for a prediction with regard to my fire district. I was just curious as to how the transition even happens. What it actually takes. I really appreciate the input and time you guys have given to this discussion. :)  

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