A Night in the Life of a Volunteer Firefighter

The Ideal Volunteer Firefighter Application:

  • You don't need to have any related skills because all of the training is provided
  • If you don't want to fight fires, you can be a volunteer EMT instead
  • They're also always looking for people who want to help with fundraising events on the business side of the company

At Hose Company No. 4, if reponding to calls, 16 a month is required; however, if you want to work on the non-emergency side, there is no hour requirement.

The Application Process

  • Once you apply, the application goes to the membership comittee
  • You would then be invited in for an interview, be submitted for a background check and begin a 90 day probation period.
  • During that period, you would begin training
  • Traning consists of learning all of the equipment on the engines, knowing the personnel, knowing the policies and procedures, knowing the basics of what's required of you and what tools you have at your disposal

For more information about Hose Company No. 4, you'll find a link to their Facebook page in the map below.

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) -- Everyone wants to make a difference, a positive change in our communities, but how much do you really know about the men and women in uniform who keep our community safe?

I spent a night running rescue calls with a volunteer fire department in Harrisonburg to learn more about these selfless heroes.

The night winds down for people across the Valley, but for those at Hose Company no. 4, the night is just beginning.

Rolling up the hoses and checking the trucks, it is just another night's work for Jonathan Simmons, "My parents ask me all the time how school's going. 'I'm like school's great, but I was at the fire house the other day' and they were like, 'Do you go to class?'

Simmons just finished his finals, a stress many students can relate to; however, his senior year looked different than other students at James Madison University. Between going to classes, his internship and football games, he spends another 30 hours a week volunteering.

"I pay rent on an apartment, which is an address. It's where my mail goes and I keep my food there, but generally I'm at the firehouse. I have my own bunk. I have linens and clothes and take my showers there and it's legitimately a home away from home," said Simmons.

His story is similar to many others working day in and day out keeping our community safe. The problem; however, is that the number of volunteers at the station has gone down one third since 2009, according to Capt. Matthew O'Donnell, the president of Hose Company No. 4.

The company has gone from have 30 volunteers, to 20 of them at a time when calls have increased.

O'Donnell said having fewer volunteers can lead to a longer response time of up to five minutes. A time which could mean life or death for someone.

"It's huge. If you have a fire on one side of the building, it could have traveled to the other side just like that, in five minutes," explained O'Donnell.

Because the station is so understaffed, some volunteers spend nearly four nights a week at the station trying to fill the void of missing volunteers.

"People can't stay at the station every night. They do have families. They do have lives outside of the firehouse," said O'Donnell.

So what does it take to be a selfless hero in our community?

While with the company, I suited up, did practice drills and learned the quickest way to put out a fire.

By 10:30 p.m., still no calls, a rare situation on an overnight shift. So we crawled into our beds.

With minutes before the end of our shift, the first call came, by 6:10 a.m. we went to a car crash just off the interstate.

The volunteers rush into work mode, brushing away the debris as they wait for state police to arrive.

By the end of the 12-hour shift, I was exhausted, but for everyone else, their day continues after a long night as they head to a full day at their paying jobs and internships.

"We have the same 'I need to get a job, need to do well on my test.' But then we also have, We have fire training tonight, that's going to take four hours. We have a business meeting tonight, that's going to take some time. I'm going to pull duty tonight or my pagers going off right now, my mom will be coming in this weekend, I need to eat dinner," said Simmons.

While many of his classmates stress about finding a job or going to grad school, Simmons carries the additional worry of taking care of the community, "This is a way I have found that I can give back to the community in a way that not many people are able to. Not many people are trained to"

While it is a lot of hard work, seeing the sun rise every morning after a long shift is a glowing reminder of how they are being good neighbors and making a difference.

To learn more about the nearest fire department or rescue squad to you, WHSV built this interactive map so you can learn more how you can help.

Where Can You Help Volunteer?

Click on a location name to view it on the map

Augusta County


Clarke County


Nelson County

Page County

Rockbridge County

Rockingham County

Shenandoah County



Grant County

Hardy County

Pendleton County

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