Click here to report anti-volunteer bias, contact the NVFC’s Volunteer Advocacy Committee, or learn more about threats to the right to volunteer.

Fire and Emergency Service Terminology

If you have never set foot inside a fire or EMS department before, some of the lingo might be unfamiliar to you. To provide you with a little background, below are some commonly used terms and their definitions. Please note that some terminology may vary depending on the location.

Apparatus – Vehicle used in transporting firefighters to the scene of an incident. Types of apparatus include aerial or ladder trucks, engines or pumpers, and brush trucks, among others. In some areas, it may also be referred to as a “rig.”

Career, call, and volunteer – Career refers to individuals who make fire and emergency service their occupation. They have shifts at a station and are paid. Call refers to individuals who have a different, primary job and are paid only for incidents that they respond to. Volunteer refers to individuals who respond to incidents without pay.

EMS – Emergency medical service.

EMT – Emergency medical technician. Individuals who are specially trained and certified to provide basic emergency care and life support services before and during transport to a hospital or other care facility.

Engine – This is an apparatus designed for fire attack and is equipped with a water tank, water pump, and firefighting hose. Also called pumpers.

First Responders – Individuals who, in the early stages of an incident, are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence, and the environment. This general term includes firefighters and EMTs.

Firefighters – Individuals who respond to fire incidents and, frequently, to medical emergencies as well, including most natural and man-made disasters.

Fire Chief – The head of a fire department.

Hazmat – Hazardous materials. Includes chemicals and materials that are explosive, flammable, or otherwise capable of causing death or destruction when improperly handled or released.

ICS – Incident Command System. This is a set structure for command, organization, and coordination of an emergency response effort. The Incident Commander is the person in charge of and responsible for the emergency response to an incident.

Non-operational – This refers to the non-response or non-emergency tasks of the department.

Paramedic – Highest level of EMTs. Trained and certified to provide advanced life support and care in emergency situations, and qualified to administer certain pharmaceutical drugs.

PPE – Personal protective equipment. This includes items such as gloves and eye protection.

Rehab – Service provided to firefighters on the fireground that provides immediate medical attention including rehydration, treatment for smoke inhalation, and prevention of life-threatening conditions such as heatstroke and heart attack. Rehab units may provide items and services such as water, food, chairs, cooling items such as a canopy for shade or misting fans, and medical monitoring.

Turnouts – The fire-retardant clothing that firefighters wear to a fire call. Sometimes called “bunker gear.”

SCBA –Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. This is the device worn by firefighters and rescue workers to provide breathable air during incidents.

Volunteer as a First Responder

Thank you for your interest in serving your local community as a volunteer firefighter or EMS provider. As a volunteer, you will be joining a proud tradition that dates back to the very beginning of our nation, with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin among the many founding fathers who were also involved in the volunteer fire service.

Today, volunteers still comprise a majority of our nation’s fire service. In fact, 70% of all firefighters are volunteers, with over one million volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel in the U.S. Half of all Americans live in communities served by fire departments that are either volunteer or a combination of volunteer and career (full-time and paid). In addition to providing life-saving services, these volunteers save communities across the nation a significant amount of money. It would cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $140.7 billion every year if all the volunteer first responders were replaced with career staff.

Below you will find information to help you get started, including what to expect as a volunteer firefighter or EMT, how to volunteer with your local fire/EMS department, and a list of commonly used terms to help you become familiar with the fire and emergency service field.

If you have questions and would like to speak with someone on the phone, please call 1-800-FIRE-LINE.

What to Expect

By becoming a volunteer firefighter or EMT, you will play a crucial role in protecting your neighbors from disasters and emergencies of all kinds. You will also be joining a tight-knit group of men and women dedicated to providing life-saving services to their community.

Being a volunteer first responder is very demanding and requires a great deal of commitment and training. As a volunteer firefighter or EMT, you can expect to:

  • Attend weekly and/or monthly meetings and training sessions.
  • Participate in regular duty shifts. Hours vary by department.
  • Perform physically demanding work.
  • Spend extended periods of time outside in inclement weather.
  • Be called out at any hour of the day or night.


Find a Department

If you are ready to volunteer or want to learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter/EMT, call 1-800-FIRE-LINE or fill out the online form to be connected with a department near you.

Fire and Emergency Service Terminology

Click here to learn some fire service lingo you will need to know as a volunteer with your fire/EMS department.

Resources for State Associations and Fire/EMS Departments

1-800-FIRE-LINE is a low-cost, easy-to-manage recruitment campaign for local fire and emergency service departments to get both operational and non-operational volunteers. Ready-to-use resources for promoting the campaign in your community or state are available at no cost. Departments and state fire service associations can use this section to learn more about 1-800-FIRE-LINE and find the operating and marketing resources to implement the campaign.

Operating Resources

Retaining and recruiting department personnel is an ongoing concern for the fire and emergency services. 1-800-FIRE-LINE was created to assist in retention and recruitment efforts by offering an inexpensive, easily-managed mechanism to recruit volunteers for fire/EMS departments through a simple, toll-free number. Fire Corps and the NVFC have created a variety of operating resources that you can use to enhance the effectiveness of 1-800-FIRE-LINE in your state and local area.

These operating resources walk you through the steps of implementing and maintaining 1-800-FIRE-LINE, assist in organizing information and data from potential volunteers, and create a valuable connection between your organization and the various fire and emergency service organizations within your state by helping them to retain and recruit both emergency and non-emergency volunteers for their departments. These tools can be used as-is or modified to reflect the specific needs of your organization.

Marketing Resources 

Resource-constrained departments all across the nation are in need of support and assistance, and there are many members of the community that want to help. 1-800-FIRE-LINE provides a central point of contact for these potential volunteers. However, if these volunteers do not know 1-800-FIRE-LINE exists they will not call. Registering and administering 1-800-FIRE-LINE is the first step in recruiting volunteers for fire/EMS departments in your state. The next step is to market 1-800-FIRE-LINE. Publicizing the number will raise awareness that local fire/EMS departments need assistance and informs the public that they can easily learn about local emergency and non-emergency volunteer opportunities by calling this toll-free number.

Americans are overrun with advertisements, so it is important for your association to use multiple mediums to publicize 1-800-FIRE-LINE. Fire Corps and the NVFC have created a series of marketing tools to help you advertise 1-800-FIRE-LINE at little or no cost to your organization or your state’s local fire and emergency service departments.

Use the links below to find ready-made materials you can use to broadcast the 1-800-FIRE-LINE message in your state. You will also find ideas concerning distribution as well as marketing tips and techniques for reaching potential volunteers.

Contact the Fire Corps national office at 1-888-FC-INFO1 (324-6361) or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you have questions regarding these tools or to request additional copies.

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