What It's Like To Be a Volunteer Firefighter

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Michal Cohen at the Belltown Fire Department in Connecticut.
Michal Cohen at the Belltown Fire Department in Connecticut. (Credit: Courtesy Michal Cohen)

Since 2018, Michal Cohen has been a volunteer firefighter at the Belltown Fire Department in Stamford, Connecticut.

"I never thought about becoming a firefighter, but while I was trying to figure out what career I wanted to pursue, my dad suggested I join the local fire station – and I've loved it ever since," said the 26-year-old. "What appealed to me the most about joining was that it’s very challenging, but also rewarding."

What does a typical shift for a firefighter look like?

Training, cleaning, doing school work, working out — and hanging out with my fellow firefighters.

What do you like most about being a firefighter? And least?

It's a very rewarding job. Every time I go on a call, I know I'm helping someone. But it can be hard sometimes depending on the call. Some calls can be very difficult emotionally.

What's the most common misconception about being a firefighter?

As a volunteer firefighter, one of the most common misconceptions is that volunteers do not have the same training and are not as skilled as career firefighters. We are equally trained.

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

Not every call is exciting. Many are routine calls. It may seem like we aren’t making a difference, but I learned that every job is important – even if the same person calls every day. Because, to them, we are the only help they are getting.

How did you train for this job?

When I first joined, I had to learn what was in each rig and in which compartment, so that if a senior member asked me for a tool, I would be able to get it right away. I also took a four-month "Firefighter 1" class where we were trained in everything related to firefighting – such as the chemistry of how a fire is caused, engine and ladder work and search and rescue. Additionally, every Tuesday night, we have a drill where we train. 

What are some of the risks and rewards of the work you do?

It's a very dangerous job. You never know exactly what you will be responding to. A routine fire alarm can turn into a very dangerous situation. One important thing a firefighter told me was to never act like you know everything about the job and to constantly be striving to become better. Because no matter how seasoned a firefighter is, any fire can turn out to be their last one. But it is also very rewarding to help someone at one of their most distressing and challenging times.

If you weren't in your current industry, what would you be doing?

Because I’m a volunteer firefighter, I also have a full-time job as an electrician.

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