Ask a Firefighter: How can I help my community during the pandemic?
By Captain Jane Perkins (WHFD)
September 8, 2020

There is no question that fire departments are facing unprecedented challenges during the global pandemic. The pandemic has changed the way first responders train and how they respond to fire and first aid calls. However, the dedication of the volunteers in the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League has remained constant. There is an inherent danger in being a first responder, yet volunteers throughout the area continue to answer the call every day. Even during a pandemic, the brave men and women who make up your local volunteer departments continue to serve their communities without hesitation.

Coronavirus has impacted our society in many ways. While it may have left people with an excess of free time, it also left some feeling socially isolated. Experts suggest that helping your community by volunteering fills some of those voids. Volunteering helps you feel more connected to your community, and it helps you feel more useful during a time of great stress for everyone.

If the pandemic has left you with a more flexible schedule, and you have a desire to serve your community, you will find that your local volunteer fire department or ambulance service will provide you with one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

According to the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), volunteers make up a majority of the firefighters in the United States. There are more than 1.1 million firefighters across the country, and nearly 683,000 of them are volunteers. The NVFC reports that almost 20,000 of the nearly 30,000 fire departments in the country are completely staffed by volunteers, and an additional 5,000 departments are predominantly staffed by volunteers.

Unfortunately, volunteerism is declining, especially throughout the fire service. According to the National Fire Protection Association, the number of volunteers in the United States has decreased 15% since 1984, yet the call volume has increased by nearly 300%, leaving volunteer fire departments in desperate need of additional volunteers.

Local fire department and firefighter data aligns with the national statistics. The majority of fire departments within Washington County in Rhode Island and New London County in Connecticut are primarily operated by volunteer firefighters, and they are always searching for new volunteers. The chance to aid and serve the community is an extremely fulfilling experience.

Firefighting is not easy. Becoming a volunteer firefighter requires many hours of initial training and high levels of commitment and dedication. As a professional volunteer firefighter, you will need to continue to commit the time and the effort that it takes to attend training on a regular basis and to respond to emergency calls. You simply cannot expect to walk into a volunteer firehouse and be ready to do the job.

Volunteer firefighters train and prepare for emergency situations that may be both mentally challenging and physically engaging. In addition to extinguishing fires and administering first aid, emergency duties also include rescuing victims from cars or buildings, carrying fire hoses up stairs or ladders, breaking down doors or walls, and operating powerful tools and equipment. If firefighting is going to be a rewarding experience, you need to make sure you are willing to learn the skills and you have the time and flexibility in your schedule to be a productive member.

Remember, not everyone needs to fight the fires! There are many non-emergency and administrative tasks that need to be completed daily to keep a volunteer fire department operating smoothly. Those duties include planning and implementing fire prevention activities and community risk reduction programs. Routine firehouse tasks, such as maintaining the building facilities and emergency vehicles as well as giving firehouse tours, are also part of the job.

The key to being a successful volunteer firefighter is to focus on your training. You may be referred to as a volunteer, but the citizens in your community will expect you to be professional, fully trained, highly skilled, and completely prepared to handle any emergency. If you still have dreams of fighting fires and protecting your community, we encourage you to become a volunteer firefighter. Your professional skills, background knowledge, and willingness to help will make you a valued member of any department.

Fighting fires is just one of the ways that you can help your community. As a volunteer, you will meet new people, gain invaluable experience, and acquire skills that will benefit you and your community for years to come. If you have the time, the flexibility, and the desire to help others, stop by your local fire department, or visit their visit website to learn more. You can also apply online at

This column was written by Jane Perkins, fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at

Hyperlinks: The Westerly Sun Article