Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter: 5 Risks to be Aware of

Volunteering as a firefighter is a noble and selfless endeavor. It’s a commitment to serving the community and protecting lives and property in times of crisis.

Volunteer firefighters play a crucial role in emergency response, often serving alongside their professional counterparts. Sadly, as reported by the BBC, the US is currently facing a shortage of such volunteers. After all, the role of a volunteer firefighter comes with its own set of risks and challenges.

Stateline reports that some states are looking to provide financial benefits or tax breaks to volunteer firefighters. This is being done to encourage them to take on this important role. However, irrespective of the perks being offered, authorities must also ensure proper education for these volunteers. They must especially be educated regarding the risks associated with this job.

All that being said, here are a few risks individuals should be aware of before committing to this line of service.

Physical Risks

Firefighters regularly face hazardous situations, including battling flames, navigating through smoke-filled environments, and rescuing individuals from precarious situations. These tasks require strength, agility, and endurance, and there’s always the possibility of sustaining injuries such as burns, cuts, or broken bones.

Additionally, the strenuous nature of firefighting can take a toll on the body over time, leading to long-term health issues.

Mental and Emotional Stress

According to research published in Frontiers, the demands of firefighting extend beyond the physical challenges. Firefighting also entails significant mental and emotional strain. Volunteer firefighters frequently encounter distressing scenes, such as witnessing severe injuries, fatalities, or property destruction.


The pressure of responding to emergencies and making split-second decisions in high-pressure situations can lead to stress, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s essential for volunteers to have coping mechanisms in place and access to mental health support resources to address these challenges effectively.

Vehicle Accidents

Volunteer firefighters frequently respond to emergencies using emergency vehicles, which increases their risk of being involved in traffic accidents. Responding to calls under time pressure and navigating through traffic with sirens blaring can be inherently dangerous.

Moreover, adverse weather conditions or poor road conditions can further exacerbate the risk of accidents. It’s imperative for volunteer firefighters to prioritize safe driving practices, undergo regular vehicle maintenance checks, and receive specialized training in emergency vehicle operations.

Exposure to Hazardous Materials

In addition to fire-related risks, volunteer firefighters are often exposed to various hazardous materials present at emergency scenes. These materials may include toxic chemicals, flammable substances, or environmental pollutants. Exposure to such hazards can have adverse health effects, ranging from respiratory issues to chemical burns or long-term illnesses.

Besides, firefighting agencies might end up purchasing toxic fire extinguishers, leading to significant harm to firefighters during their use. This concern gained widespread attention due to the AFFF firefighting foam lawsuits.

TorHoerman Law states that AFFF firefighting foam harbors carcinogenic PFAS chemicals, posing a cancer risk to users. Over time, numerous firefighters have faced cancer diagnoses attributed to prolonged AFFF exposure, highlighting the dangers associated with this toxic firefighting foam.

According to the latest AFFF lawsuit update, manufacturers of these foams are having to pay millions of dollars in settlement funds. Those affected by AFFF still have the option to pursue legal action against these manufacturers to seek both justice and compensation for their injuries.

Structural Collapse and Entrapment

Firefighters often encounter situations where buildings or structures are compromised due to fire damage, posing the risk of collapse or entrapment.

Structural instability can make rescue operations perilous, as firefighters must navigate unstable environments while attempting to locate and extricate victims. The potential for sudden structural failures or unexpected hazards adds an additional layer of risk to firefighting operations.


Thorough situational awareness, adherence to established safety protocols, and effective communication among team members are essential for minimizing the dangers associated with structural collapse.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What skills does one need to become a volunteer firefighter?

Volunteer firefighters typically need skills in firefighting techniques, emergency medical response, communication, teamwork, physical fitness, and a willingness to undergo training. They also require a commitment to serving their community and responding to emergencies effectively.

Do volunteer firefighters receive training?

Yes, volunteer firefighters undergo extensive training to equip them with essential firefighting skills, including fire suppression techniques, rescue procedures, and emergency medical response. This training ensures they are prepared to effectively respond to various types of emergencies in their communities.

What is the most common cause of fire-related injuries?

In the United States, cooking stands as the primary cause of home fires, as well as the foremost reason for fire-related injuries. Such fires commonly stem from neglectful cooking practices and human mistakes, rather than issues with stove or oven mechanisms.

In conclusion, becoming a volunteer firefighter is a commendable decision that requires courage, dedication, and a willingness to serve others. However, it’s essential for individuals considering this role to understand the inherent risks involved and take appropriate measures to mitigate them.

Despite the challenges they may face, volunteer firefighters play a vital role in ensuring the safety and resilience of their communities. By acknowledging and addressing these risks proactively, they can fulfill their duties effectively while safeguarding their well-being.