me next to flashover trailer

Intern Firefighter VS Volunteer Firefighter

Posted by

After speaking to many people both in and out of the fire service as to the things that they did to get hired by a full time fire department. There tends to be many different paths to get hired by a department. Many times these options can be drastically different from state to state or even country to country. If you are new to the fire service, and you are looking for the quickest, most efficient way to get hired, check out my post here where I talk about how to get hired as a big guy. As a new guy or gal in the fire service, you obviously want to get hired as quickly as possible, but how do you stand out from the hundreds of applicants for the very few positions open?

Assuming that you are looking to get hired by a full time department, a great way to stand out from other applicants during a fire department hiring process is to gain experience and a reputation from work experience such as becoming an intern firefighter, or as a volunteer firefighter. Word gets around the fire service very quickly about your reputation and work ethic, so make sure you leave great impressions with everyone you meet. I’m going to go a little deeper on these below.

Fire Internships

Here in the state of Wisconsin, firefighter internships are a common thing used to an applicants advantage to get a real world front seat taste of public safety without having all the certifications needed to be hired full time by that department. This is also to the advantage of departments hosting the internships. This gives individual departments the opportunity to see what you are like with their employees, get a real sense of your work ethic and ability to learn. The reason they do this, is that they can see if a person is someone they would want to hire onto their department without spending the large sums of money on new firefighters for training, uniforms and more. 

Wisconsin and California are two states that I know for sure that have internships, but I am sure there are many more places and jurisdictions that offer such internships. As with any internship, some are paid, some are not and some even let you sleep at the department. Milwaukee Fire Department has an internship program that is designed for 17-19 year olds to become cadets. As a cadet, they receive fire training, EMS training, and are even paid for their time as well. As expected, this is also a very competitive hiring process for those people. Many departments in many different states offer some sort of cadet or intern training opportunity, so If you qualify for these, I highly recommend you take advantage of these, since these can set you apart from applicants who do not have this type of experience. 

Volunteer Firefighting

If you do not have the option to become a fire cadet or intern, you can always join a volunteer department. I want to remind you that this post is assuming that you are looking to get hired by a bigger full time department. Your next best option to start building your resume and reputation are local fire classes and volunteer departments. With fire classes, every fire instructor knows somebody at every department. This is the same thing with volunteer departments, volunteer fire departments make up about 70% of the fire service in the United States. The impression you leave on each individual in these departments will travel very far throughout other agencies.  I am going to touch a little bit on the types of experiences you will tend to get from both fire internships as well as volunteer departments.


The type and quality of training and experience you get from both an internship and a volunteer department can vary greatly. As a person who has experienced both, I was fortunate to experience both a great fire internship as well as a great volunteer department and learned a lot from both experiences. With the fire internships, they tend to be conducted by larger fulltime departments, and not volunteer departments. When I got hired as an intern at a full time department, I was able to perform all the duties I was certified to perform, for example, with an EMT-B license, I was allowed to perform EMT-B duties within my scope under the supervision of a paramedic. The same thing applied for my fire certifications. I had my EMS license before I had my fire certifications, so at the time, if there was a fire call, I could not participate, but everything else was fair game.

After I received my fire certificates, I could now go to hazmat situations, structure fires, vehicle fires, vehicle extrications, technical rescues, and all kinds of EMS calls as well. The big positive that I saw with these internships, is that the departments who usually host internships tend to have high call volume as well. Internships tend to give you a lot of experience in a short amount of time.

With volunteer departments, there are some with pretty low call volume and some with high. If the volunteer department is usually pretty small, but if it is nearby year round activities such as snowmobiling/ATV trails or other outdoor activities. In these departments, you tend to see a lot of traumatic injuries resulting from snowmobiling accidents and ATV accidents.


Both volunteer departments and internship locations tend to offer very good training. Large departments have different people trained on different things such as technical rescues, others as paramedics, and others as firefighters trained to rescue downed firefighters (RIT). With volunteer departments and even smaller rural departments, firefighters tend to be the jack of all trades. Volunteer and small rural departments are expected to fight fires just as effectively as big departments. 
On the flip side, there are absolutely awful departments, that it is seriously a life risk if you work and volunteer with them. It can’t be that bad you say? Well check out this video.


Gaining hands-on experience is a vital step in standing out from the crowd in the fire service. I would personally recommend becoming a fire intern or cadet if that is something available for you. Being a volunteer is your next best action, since you will probably have to make many decisions, as opposed to being an intern where you are supervised in a way, therefore giving you much more valuable experience.

At the end of the day, you must do what’s best for you and your situation. If you are wondering how to easily get hired by your dream department, make sure you sign up for my free 4 step PDF on how to get hired by your dream department.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *