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See also the Firefighter article and its respective 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. According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, 73 percent of firefighters in the United States are members of VFDs.

The first organized force of firefighters was the Corps of Vigilesin Rome.

The term "volunteer" contrasts with career firefighters who are full-time firefighters, working organized shifts, usually based in a centrally located firehouse. Some volunteer departments may operate as part of a combination system, where paid firefighters also provide emergency services. In this way, a station can be regularly staffed for rapid response with apparatus, and the volunteers provide supplementary staffing and/or staffed apparatus before, during, and after an incident, or while the career staff are out of service doing training.

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 not compensated as employees during the time they are responding to or attending an emergency scene, and possibly even for training drills. An on-call firefighter would probably be expected to volunteer time for other non-emergency duties as well (training, fundraising, equipment maintenance, etc).

In the United Kingdom there are almost no separate volunteer fire departments with the only exception being the now disbanded Auxiliary Fire Service, but part-time members of fire brigades who man smaller, often rural, stations are known as retained firefighters. In the Republic of Ireland, the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) is still very much in existence and is a branch of the national civil defence organisation. The service is usually only called upon for large-scale incidents where the resources of front-line fire brigades are stretched.[1]

Contents

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 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. 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 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.[2] In other jurisdictions, this may be a blue light without a siren (Courtesy lights), that only requests the right of way, and does not give the responding member any privileges to break traditional traffic laws.[3] 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, and the size and amount of other traffic in the fire district. 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.

Training

All 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 vigors of further fire training.

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

References

External links

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