Volunteer Firefighter/EMTs receive the same intense and physically demanding training as the career staff of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, and they perform the same operational roles. Becoming a volunteer Firefighter/EMT is not for everyone. To be eligible, volunteers must be in excellent physical condition and be able to complete the Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT) to demonstrate sufficient fitness.
The following is a brief overview of the initial training process for firefighter/EMT volunteers. All training classes are held on nights and weekends, in recognition of the fact that our volunteers have many other commitments, in addition to volunteering. Recognizing the importance of emergency medical skills, all Fairfax County firefighters must first train to be EMS providers and maintain this certification throughout their tenure.
Volunteer In-Station Initiation Training (VISIT) – This is an in-station orientation program (taught by each volunteer department) to familiarize new members with the volunteer department and its fire station, equipment and procedures. Duration: variable 7 to 30 days. (While each station has its own procedure for VISIT, the course usually involves between 8 – 12 hours of instruction.)
Level I – Also known as Initial Emergency Response Training, Level 1 is taught at the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Training Academy. The course gives new members an introduction to the world of emergency services and details the operations of the FCFRD as a whole. Volunteers also learn basic emergency provider skills such as CPR, Hazardous Materials Awareness, and use of a fire extinguisher, enabling them to ride as an observer on ambulances and fire engines. Duration: 30 days. (Evening classes one night each week plus occasional classes on Saturday or Sunday mornings. 40 hours of total instruction.)
Physical Exam – A thorough physical will be conducted at the Fairfax County Occupational Health and Safety Center. This exam tests volunteers’ ability to handle the stresses of being a Firefighter/EMT. A passing physical is required in order to continue volunteer training and participate as an operational volunteer.
EMT-B Class – This is a Virginia EMT-B (basic) certification course that meets national standards laid out by the U.S. Department of Transportation. This course provides the knowledge and skills needed to provide basic life support (BLS) care and function independently in a medical emergency. Students learn how to take vital signs, properly stabilize patients, deliver babies, and treat traumatic injuries or life-threatening medical emergencies in a pre-hospital setting. Duration: 3 months. (Classes at the Fire and Rescue Academy on Tuesday and Thursday nights and Sunday mornings. 120 hours of total instruction.)
Emergency Vehicle Operators Course (EVOC) – EVOC teaches volunteers the fundamentals of emergency vehicle operations, including applicable laws and safety procedures. It is required before being allowed to drive apparatus in emergency conditions. Duration: 1 month. (2 nights of evening classes, followed by in-station driving practice and a final driving test. 12 hours of total classroom instruction and testing.)
Candidate Physical Abilities Test (CPAT) – CPAT is designed to test whether recruits are physically able to perform essential job tasks at fire scenes. It consists of eight separate events that must be performed in sequence in under 10 minutes 20 seconds. To learn more about the Fairfax County CPAT, view this informative document from the FCFRD website.
Firefighter I/II Class – Firefighter I/II is a national certification course that teaches the basics of firefighting and exceeds the standards for the National Fire Prevention Association’s Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications. Students learn skills such as ropes and knots, ladders, search and rescue, fire behavior, fire suppression, vehicle extrication, high-rise firefighting, and hazardous material operations. Duration: 5 months. (Classes at the Fire and Rescue Academy on Tuesday and Thursday nights and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. 300+ hours of total instruction.)
The training schedule above outlines the basic process for becoming a volunteer Firefighter/EMT in Fairfax County. The process is extremely rewarding, but requires commitment and dedication over the course of months and years. To become a competent provider, volunteers must also spend time riding on fire engines and ambulances during emergencies and continuously practicing and enhancing their skills.
In addition to riding as front-line (“minimum staffing”) providers on fire engines and ambulances, once they have completed their initial training, volunteers can move on to become paramedics, engine drivers, unit officers, instructors, swift water rescue technicians, technical rescue technicians, and command officers.
These programs allow experienced volunteers to enhance their skills and assume more responsibility during emergencies, but are also very selective, demanding and time-consuming. Those volunteers who have chosen to pursue these opportunities reflect the skill, commitment and professionalism of Fairfax County’s fire and rescue volunteers.