A Reader Asks, I Answer

Yesterday I put up a post titled What Is Your Contingency Plan that was about figuring ways to supplement income either in retirement or in the face of some sort of change in your employment situation.

I think this is very important as I have have been displaced a coupe of times and although in both instances (2001 and late 2003 into early 2004) things worked out quickly that kind of luck can never be taken for granted.

A reader reasonably asked whether I get paid anything for firefighting. Maybe this was really asking if I walk the walk on this, or maybe not but for anyone who is interested…

We all evolve and part of evolving can be the decision to get involved volunteering with something that is presumably of interest. When I joined our volunteer department my interest was trying to be part of the solution to protect our house from a wildfire.

The more involved I got, the more involved I wanted to be. The work is challenging, it offers the opportunity to help people and it is much different than anything else I have ever done. After ten years it is still very enjoyable and any pay has has been very small (several hundred dollars ten years ago).

In posts like the one yesterday I talk about figuring out how to monetize something you would otherwise be willing to do for free. I am willing to be involved with the fire department for free but there are ways monetize my involvement through extra training and availability for certain tasks.

For now, our department does not get called out on large fires outside our area for lack of an engine boss (a specific qualification that would be difficult for a non-professional firefighter to get enough hours for). The state is actually low on engine bosses, has set out to try to qualify more people and when this happens there might then be a surplus of them that will need hours so we may be able to rent an engine boss from another department and go out on large fires. If I need it, I can make myself available for that task and make a little bit of money (again, if need be).

A couple of years ago I became an EMT to provide care on medical calls. EMT work does not appear to pay very well for the most part but there is the opportunity to get work nonetheless in hospitals or for the ambulance service. A higher paying EMT job would be working for a contractor that provides EMTs, Paramedics and ambulances to large wildfires. I am aware of two companies in Phoenix that do this and there are others. There are also a lot of expedition type companies that take EMTs on their outings.

It is not my first choice, or even my second choice to need to work as an EMT but a full time gig, if it ever came to that, would cover a meaningful chunk of our expenses. If my wife, who currently volunteers for a dog rescue full time, had to find similarly low paying work we would cover almost 80% of our total annual expenses and the remaining 20% would be well below 4% of our savings.

As chief I am gaining experience running a small department, making budget decisions, managing people and trying to help the department move forward. I am certainly learning a lot and gaining skills (also related to how non-profits work) that may or may not be marketable some day.

For now there is shift work during the fire season that could be a few hundred dollars if I took turns with that. The department has also done a little research about stipends that comply with FLSA but that is a long way down the road if ever.

I think the above is consistent with past posts about doing something you love and putting the time to figure out how to monetize it if I ever need to. To be very clear, this is a contingency based on my volunteerism not my life plan.

The picture is a Type 3 engine from a neighboring department. It is an International 4400 and brand new they are in the $300,000 range and although one of these is far beyond anything our department in its current form will likely every buy, they are my favorite kind of truck.


  1. Roger, there is a ton of discussions about planning for retirement. Most of it centers around what one should/should not do in this type of planning.

    What I would like to see is a discussion from people who are actually living in retirement. People who are carving it out and making it do. How did they plan and how are they functioning in the real world of retirement. I don’t see the value of hearing from middle aged middle managers at retirement firms about what one should do.
    I don’t know the venue for this type of discussion but I think it would be of great value to your readers. What do you think?

  2. I agree.

    Over the years I have posted all sorts of stories about people I have met and what they do in terms of creating their own retirement solution like my neighbor with his backhoe, another neighbor who has a small travel business (turns out people who are today in their 80s don’t use the internet for travel), our former fire chief and his work on large wild fires, a post about the RV people who do seasonal work at AMZN distribution centers and several others.

  3. Completely off topic…when do the leaves change color in your area?

    The desert dwelling wife and I would like plan a little fall trip in the Arizona high country.

  4. Probably October would be good. Out here, anywhere that you can find Aspen trees is pretty neat. You would probably have better luck at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon than Prescott. We get some but the road from 89a to the actual north rim has a lot of foliage.

  5. Much obliged.

    We were thinking of beginning in Prescott, east to Sedona via Jerome, up to Flagstaff (maybe Grand Canyon), down to Payson, east along the Rim through White Mountains to Alpine, then south to Morenci. We were particularly interested in seeing Aspens as you mentioned. We would probably spread this out over 5 days or so.

    Wife has new interest in landscape photography. I will indulge her, but my rules are: no chain restaurants only mom and pop places and other local favorites.

  6. You may or may not see leaves changing but all the roads you would take have amazing views–a great trip

  7. About 11-12 +/- days ago I was east of groveland, CA checking in at a camp ground. There was a 400 to 600 acre fire near by. I asked what the risk was with a fire 4 +/- miles from the camp ground. They assured me that they get plenty of notice before an evacuation.

    MY process on this was when in doubt run away. So we went 15 +/- more miles west of the campground and fire. I assume the people who checked in behind me got evacuated after midnight – no fun imo.

    I told you all that to ask, How far from a fire does a camper need to be to be safe and not be evacuated in the middle of the night? I know fires are all different, but how far do they travel in 12 to 24 hours? What are reasonable guesstimates?

  8. There can be no guestimate. The fire that killed the Granite Mountain Hotshots was moving north, away,from them, met a stronger wind and blew back at them at the speed of the wind which was 44mph.

    Speaking for AZ fire season, in May and June 4 miles is too close. One the monsoon starts you’d have no problem with four miles.

    A wildfire creeps at about 1/4 of a mile per hour when left un attended which may not be a huge, relative, risk to firefighters by itself but is enough to cover a lot of ground if there is no initial attack or other suppression tactic being employed.


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