Special Project 13:32 23 Dec 2022

Voluntary firefighting: how does it work and benefit communities?

Why do communities need volunteer firefighters? Who can become a part of a volunteer team? What do you need to form it? Rubryka talked with Ukraine's State Emergency Service and found out the answers.

What is the problem?

Ukraine's State Emergency Service states that over 40,000 fires occur annually in rural areas alone. If we take average figures, this is approximately 3,000 fires per month. Around 1,000 people die in such fires annually, and roughly the same number are injured (injuries, burns, etc.). 

Where do these scary numbers come from? Statistics indicate that Ukraine's State Fire Service on-call units arrive at the scene of a fire in an urban area within 20 minutes from the moment of receiving a report about a fire. In rural areas, the follow-up time to the place of call is sometimes much longer. Under such conditions, fires often reach the peak of their development, causing irreparable damage.

Undoubtedly, the situation would be better if each village had its fire brigade, right? In fact, creating such a team is possible. Doctors, teachers, financiers, private entrepreneurs, mechanics, and other concerned citizens who've decided to contribute to the community's safety can become members of voluntary fire teams in their settlements, undergo the necessary training, and make their community safer.

What is the solution?

Voluntary fire protection

What is it?

Voluntary fire departments are being actively created in Ukraine today. To explain in simple words, these are teams of motivated community members who want to take care of their safety and that of their fellow villagers. They do not have to be on duty 24 hours a day, as professional firefighters do. They don't have to leave the main place of work, but they have the equipment, overalls, and specialized knowledge to respond promptly to dangerous events, fires, and emergencies. 

добровільна пожежна охорона

Voluntary fire brigades are the first (sometimes even faster than professional firefighters) to arrive at the scene of a fire and decide whether to involve Ukraine's State Emergency Service squads. The volunteer firefighters and the State Emergency Service rescuers are included in the plans to involve extra forces and means of civil protection to respond to fires, emergencies, and other dangerous events.

Why does the state need to create voluntary fire protection units?

добровільна пожежна охорона

Today, along with 876 state fire squads, 1,022 local state fire departments directly formed by local self-government bodies and 1,287 voluntary fire departments perform tasks in Ukraine. The State Emergency Service analyzed how fire brigades worked and came to the conclusion that there should be almost twice as many volunteer fire departments.

Deputy Director of the Civil Protection Department at State Emergency Service, Serhii Kudin, explains:

"Sometimes the distance from a populated place to the fire and  State Emergency Service rescue unit — local or voluntary — is up to 50 kilometers, and consequently, the waiting time for help from rescuers in the event of a fire is 40-50 minutes. It takes a long time and leads to significant human and material losses. We have calculated the formation and functioning of a prospective network of voluntary and local fire rescue units. And today, it is necessary to form another 1,307 local or voluntary fire departments. This will make it possible to increase the efficiency of responding to fires with the following components: 

  • reducing the arrival time of rescue teams from 5 to 20 minutes (due to the reduction of the radius of departure to 20 kilometers);
  • the main goal is to provide timely assistance, reduce human and economic losses, promote community cohesion, and develop the firefighter volunteer movement. 

How does it work?

Ukraine's State Emergency Service firefighters, like the local fire brigade, stand in for round-the-clock duty, but volunteers do not stand in for duty (usually). However, a "mixed" system is possible: when a driver who receives the minimum wage is on round-the-clock duty. In both cases, upon receiving a notification, volunteers arrive either at the department or directly at the scene of the incident. Serhii Kudin explains how everything works:

"Our fire department receives a notification on line 101 that there is a problem somewhere. It notifies the nearest squad of the local or volunteer fire department and goes to the place of the call following the engagement plan. Local notifications come through phone software. The volunteer fire department receives an assistance request and quickly notifies other volunteers. They arrive at the place of the call and perform the task of extinguishing the fire. 

When volunteers arrive at the scene, they must assess the situation and the possible scale of negative consequences. Then they either confirm the involvement of additional forces and start extinguishing, or determine that their powers are sufficient, thereby saving the resources of both their community and the state."

добровільний пожежний рух

Where does it work?

As we have mentioned, 1,287 voluntary fire departments have already been created throughout Ukraine. 

For example, the voluntary fire brigade in the village of Rosokhach in the Horodenka district (Ivano-Frankivsk region) began to operate only in October of this year. Twelve volunteers from among the locals have already been trained and will now stand guard, and these are nine settlements with almost 9,000 inhabitants!

добровільна пожежна охорона

Even monks can become volunteers; this happened in the Rivne region, in the Hurby Holy Resurrection Men's Monastery. The fire brigade will serve the neighboring villages of the Mizoch territorial community. Two monks are part of the voluntary fire brigade of the Holy Resurrection Men's Monastery on the Rebel Graves. These are the priest, Archimandrite Onuphrius, and the priest, hegumen Luka.

добровільна пожежна охорона

"Who, if not us, should do good and help people? God forbid that fires happen, but if they do, we can get to the place faster and extinguish the fire before the rescuers arrive. This is all voluntary and not only during the prayer-free time. Of course, we will not be leaving in cassocks. We have been provided with suits and everything we need. If necessary, we go in, get dressed and leave. This is the monk's obedience to help when needed, " the vicar of the monastery explained.

Emergency Service has a map showing where volunteer fire units still work.

Who can become a volunteer?

Anyone over the age of 18 can join the ranks of the volunteer fire department. You can join the fire volunteering service by filling out a questionnaire on the website of the State Emergency Service or by submitting a corresponding application to a local self-government body, territorial community, etc. Thus, if the locality decides to a voluntary fire department, you may be offered to become its member.

By the way, you can become a volunteer without gender restrictions. Serhii Kudin says: "324 women are already performing their duties in the ranks of the voluntary fire brigade. Like men in the state fire protection, women extinguish fires side by side."

A person who wants to join the volunteer fire brigade ranks must undergo a medical examination. If all indicators are standard, the future volunteer is sent to training under a specialized program. What does it consist of? We explain further.

Can you trust volunteers' professionalism?

All those who join the volunteer fire brigade must undergo appropriate training. Serhii Kudin, Deputy Director of the Department of Civil Protection Organization at Ukraine's State Emergency Service, says that this is 140 hours of theoretical and practical training:

"Today, thanks to our international partners we have already trained 192 members of voluntary and local fire and rescue units. Currently, with the support of USAID's HOVERLA project jointly with Solidarity Fund, we provide training for 300 community representatives from Poltava, Lviv, and Volyn regions."

The whole process is carried out in those educational centers where members of the state fire protection are trained, but with a shortened program of only 140 hours, of which 95 hours are theoretical classes and 45 hours are practical training on the territory of the nearest fire department. There, volunteers acquire, as the military says, "combat coordination": they are professionally trained in working with fire equipment and extinguishing skills. Volunteers confirm the knowledge they have acquired during testing, just like at the university.

добровільна пожежна охорона

After completing the training, volunteers receive certificates, but one should not assume that this way, they get a new profession. Serhii Kudin explains:

"Our boys and girls (members of the state fire brigade, – ed.) are trained for three months, and training with volunteers lasts less than a month. They do not get a new profession, but they get a certificate that they have received the appropriate training and can participate in firefighting and emergency response.

What does a volunteer earn?

Volunteers are motivated to keep the community safe, so they don't get paid to put out fires. However, the legislation provides for specific motivational tools, and members of the voluntary fire department have some advantages, namely:

  • Preferential right to keep the job during layoffs. If the company reduces staff, a voluntary fire brigade member will save the position over colleagues. 
  • Provision of annual leave at a convenient time, and for volunteers, it is five days longer. Usually, in many enterprises, the vacation schedule is created without employees' wishes considered, although perhaps, taking into account their requests. A volunteer fire department member can take a vacation at a time convenient for them. 
  • The workplace and position are preserved for the period of the volunteer fire brigade members being involved in extinguishing fires. The employer could not fire such a volunteer due to absenteeism if they were absent from work because they were fighting a fire. 
  • Assistance for temporary incapacity for work, the possibility of obtaining a loyalty card (such cards are also available to veterans and combatants — they provide an opportunity to receive discounts on various types of services). At the community's request, rewards can be assigned to volunteers on behalf of the community in the amount and form determined by the community itself.

How to create a voluntary fire department in your locality?

If your locality doesn't yet have a volunteer fire department, it must be established by the local self-government body. 

добровільна пожежна охорона

When the community votes and decides on a voluntary fire department, it will need the following:

A firefighting vehicle (fire truck or other equipment adapted for fire extinguishing). The community can purchase it independently or get the excess equipment from the State Emergency Service (SES can transfer it to the community if there's a vehicle available). This is how the voluntary fire brigade in the village of Rosokhach received the fire truck, special equipment, and gear.

добровільна пожежна охорона

  • The depot where the vehicle will be located;

добровільний пожежний рух

  • Special-purpose clothes. They are bought with the community's funds, but other options are also possible to attract funding. For example, in 25 partner communities of USAID's HOVERLA Project in Lviv, Volyn, and Poltava regions, members of voluntary fire departments received protective clothing and other equipment for responding to emergencies.

добровільна пожежна охорона

  • Also, the community should consider the funds for the voluntary fire brigade maintenance, which are the costs for the maintenance of the depot itself and the payment of utility services.
  • Of course, the most important thing is the team of motivated locals ready to undergo training and take on additional responsibilities.

This publication was created by Rubryka within the Safety of Civilians campaign. The campaign, Safety of Civilians, is implemented by NGO Internews Ukraine and was made possible thanks to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the sincere support of the American people through USAID's HOVERLA Project. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of USAID and the US Government.


If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Add comment

E-mail is already registered on the site. Please use the Login form or enter another.

You entered an incorrect username or password

Sorry, you must be logged in to post a comment.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: