Society will always need firefighters. Paid departments have a steady flow of attrition due to retirements, and volunteer departments constantly need new members. There are plenty of opportunities for young recruits who are looking for hands-on training and a potential career in firefighting. Some programs begin in high school, and volunteering with a department is a great way to keep college expenses down.
Contact local high school guidance counsellors to find out about Explorer programs for those who want to pursue a firefighting career. This will give you one-on-one time to learn about the necessary training from career or volunteer firefighters, and you may be able to shadow them on some calls. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards prohibit departments from accepting new members who are under 18, but younger Explorer members can still learn a lot without participating in firefighting and rescue activities.
Ask the closest volunteer department about membership opportunities. New members may be required to complete 110 hours of intensive weekend training before they are allowed on calls, which is the national standard, according to VolunteerFD.org. There may be optional training opportunities for first aid, emergency medical technicians (EMT), confined space rescues and hazardous materials, among many other areas. Training is typically funded by the state.
Enrol in a college fire science program that partners with volunteer or hybrid (some paid, some volunteer) departments. These programs are common at community colleges. Students, called "bunk-ins," can live in the firehouse for free if they serve the fire brigade and respond to calls. After graduation some students elect to apply for jobs at paid departments, which require recruits to complete coursework at a state fire academy before they can respond to calls.
Candidates for jobs at paid departments are not required to have experience with a volunteer department. Typically, departments select from a list of those who scored high on a civil service exam. Even if you completed extensive training as a volunteer you would still be required to complete the state fire academy as well as the paid department's own in-house training program.