According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, 70 percent of firefighters in the United States are volunteers.
Now, new laws in Ohio require volunteer firefighters to continuously train for those life or death situations everybody fears.
Volunteer recruit, Mike Harrod just finished a training exercise which highlights some of the hazards of fighting a fire. It's a firefighting obstacle course which simulates the conditions of a burning attic. And he did it blindfolded.
"Your senses are all taken away from you. It's basically just feeling your way out and staying calm, conserving your air to the best of your ability," said Harrod.
Harrod is completing the 36 hour volunteer firefighter course at Apollo Career Center to become a member of the Spencerville Invincible Fire Company.
It's training that every volunteer firefighter in the state must complete. The certification was good for life when Chief Dave Evans took the course.
"It was 36 hours when I started, and you were done," said Evans.
Now firefighters, no matter how many years of experience they have, must complete 54 extra hours of training every three years to remain certified.
"Once you get out there and you're fighting a fire, that fire doesn't care what level of certification you have. So, by the state implementing these continuing education requirements, that helps bring everybody up to the same standards-- to know what building construction is like, how fire is going to behave. It keeps us all safe," said Crystal Kempher, Public Safety Coordinator at Apollo.
The training updates the volunteers on new equipment and the different types of hazards they could experience while responding to a call.
"The structures themselves are changing because of the way construction used to be. You used to use really large lumber. Now, with light weight construction, they just don't hold up to fire. Within a matter of minutes its going to be a collapse zone. We have to really be prepared," said Ron Zenz, Fire Safety Coordinator at Apollo.
However, change can be hard.
"I know with some volunteer departments, they're really struggling with budgets. Additional training can sometimes really be a challenge," said Doug Corwin, instructor at Apollo's volunteer firefighter course.
According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, the average cost to train and equip a firefighter is $27,000.
And in Spencerville, budgets are tight.
Chief Evans agrees with the new training requirements, but the requirements were just too much for some of the department's more seasoned volunteers.
"We've had a couple that have dropped. You know they didn't want to redo it and take it," said Evans.
Fortunately, in Spencerville, new guys like Harrod are filling the ranks.
Most departments pay for training through grants. However, some volunteers do pay their own way.
More on the challenges of staffing a volunteer department in the second part of The Heat is On.