Be a Hometown Hero: Volunteer Firefighters

Volunteer firefighters serve the community, meet neighbors and find adventure along the way. Join your local fire department!

| February/March 2003

Local volunteer firefighters are ordinary people who become hometown heroes.

The first thing our 3-year-old son, Don, did when we moved was run right out to the suburban sidewalk in front of our new house and yell, "Hey, kids! Here I am!" Six doors up the street, a young mother scooped up her two small children, went inside and closed the door. Don burst into tears.

Whether you move across town or across the country, as we did, it's not always easy being the new kid on the block. Outside of the handful of people I worked with at my new job, we didn't know anybody in our new home of Emmaus (pronounced E-may-us), Pennsylvania. Then my wife, Melanie, got a part-time job as a newspaper reporter. Her editor, Randall Murray, also was a volunteer firefighter in Emmaus. Thanks to him, we soon got to know almost everyone in the town of 11,000. "Why don't you come to fire practice some Tuesday night, see how you like it?" Randall asked. "We're always looking for volunteer firefighters."

So are fire companies all over the country. Most departments don't pay a thing beyond the satisfaction of serving your community. But as emergency calls continue to increase, there are not enough volunteers to keep pace. So to recruit and retain members, more and more departments are offering incentives. Maryland gives firefighters a $3,000 deduction on state taxes. Virginia offers a $400 to $1,000 tax break on a new car. Hourly stipends around the country range from about $5 to as high as $32 in Sedona, Arizona. Other departments provide health insurance, health club memberships, tuition assistance, modest pensions, free utility water and rent-free living at the firehouse. New Jersey gives volunteer firefighters low-interest housing loans. Some Colorado departments offer free skiing. In Indiana, firefighters get free meals while on duty. Volunteers in Sitka, Alaska, get free cable TV.

In Emmaus, we're now on-call paid volunteers. We get $8.75 to $12.75 per hour, based on training, rank and attendance at calls and practice. Three-person crews work shifts that cover 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It's not a bad little moonlight job. Last year, I earned $3,900. For younger members, it's a good stepping stone to full-time firefighting jobs.

Volunteer Firefighters: Anyone Can Help

Join the fire department? you ask. Are you nuts? It does not say "Superman" on my long johns!

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