After children are recruited in the Volunteer Fire Department, their trustworthiness is proven, and the authorities stop searching for them, they begin their VFD Training,[1] which lasts until graduation and apprenticeship.[2]

General Training

Neophytes go to the V.F.D. Headquarters where each is given a commonplace book and trained throughout childhood and into adulthood in a particular topic that interested them. According to Captain Widdershins, "VFD isn't just a fire department. Aye–it started that way. But the volunteers were interested in every such thing!"[3]

Before the schism, Volunteers were required to get a tattoo of the VFD insignia on their left ankles, but afterward, they found it hard to know who was who while in disguises, because if they had a tattoo, they could be on either side, and because the insignia was only shown off by the fire-starters after the schism, the tattoo was associated with that side of VFD, causing problems.[1]


Letter about a potential recruit.

They also seem to be taught to do things beyond their age level- it is mentioned that as recent apprentices, Hector[2] and Widdershins[4] were allowed on their own, in a hot air balloon and submarine respectively, and Kit Snicket seemed to expect Quigley Quagmire, at the age of thirteen or fourteen, to be able to pilot a helicopter on his own.[5]

In fact, the age of the recruits can be frighteningly young; a member of the Building Committee is known to be only nine years old, and[1] it is known that Kit, her brother Jacques, and the Denouement triplets were recruited at the age of four,[5] while Lemony was recruited as an infant.[1] Several of Lemony's quips about his training also imply he was undergoing "education" for as long as he could remember, starting from his initial recruitment.

It is known that neophytes have a monthly examination.[1] Children are also taught "not to mind" being alone, lonely and isolated.[4]


Smell smoke
Help has arrived, where is the fire?
— Recitation upon arriving at the scene of a fire.[6]

The "fire-fighting" side of VFD has a great importance placed upon it. It is stated that a neophyte cannot become an apprentice, or even study for an apprenticeship, without knowing what arson is. Students are taught the original Latin term from which the word "arson" was derived- ardere, a verb meaning to burn.

Lemony Snicket references having seen several, various types of buildings burn, as part of his training, and as being trained to respond quickly to calls of a fire and attempt to put it out.[6]

Students are forced to endure multiple fire drills as part of their fire-fighting training.[7]

Volunteer Work

What we do, my associates and I, is like wandering the stacks of a library. We don't really know what we'll find. We just hope it will be helpful.

Snicket in the library.

Recruits are told, "over and over again, over the course of [their] childhoods, from the day [they] could understand what the words meant" to graduation day, to remember that they are not detectives at all, but instead collectors and preservers of knowledge and information.[4]

Several- possibly all- lessons have something to do with the spywork required for a volunteer, with secret codes, physical techniques and/or regular VFD codes being taught in all of the mentioned classes.

The definition of "Sabotage" is taught in Kindergarten.[6] It is mentioned that students spend a full school year tailing strangers in order to learn how to properly stalk and learn secrets,[4] and at one point it is required that students have a radio in their shoes.[8]

Children are all taught the Sebald Code, and are made to memorize information regarding the exact location of the automobiles used to store and convey files and messages- such as the black jeep parked in the southwest corner of the Orion Observatory. It is mentioned that this information is tested for "more than seven years."[1]

Students also used to be taught "the sugar bowl secret," though it is likely that the chaos caused by constant changing of headquarters is the reason that the Sugar Bowl is now so ambiguous.[1]

Required Reading


"What can be hidden in a book?"

As part of their Volunteer training, children are required to read and absorb information from multiple books, especially ones considered "classics." Often these books are used to convey coded messages or hidden subtext from VFD.

While not all books are known, there are several that are mentioned:

Other books mentioned to be on Kit Snicket's reading list when she was dispensing VFD text to her students at Prufrock Preparatory School are I Lost Something at the Movies, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, though as they seem to be recent books, these are presumably not a staple of VFD training.[1]

Students also read multiple different forms of poetry, in order to be able to notice changes in Verse Fluctuation Declaration. While it is unknown how many of the following poems are required and which are not, known VFD-related poems studied are:

Known Classes

While many of VFD's training techniques are kept secret, the following classes are known:
  • Coding[7] - taught by a flat-footed instructor, who mutters about writing business letters.
  • Disguise Training[1]
  • Eavesdropping[2]
  • Esperanto (elective)[6]
  • Exercise Class (of some kind)[2] - involves neophytes being taught how to properly fall into trees.
  • History Class (of some kind)[6] - neophytes are taught how to hide things in plain sight.
  • Italian (elective)[6]
  • Fencing[7]
  • Mapmaking[1]
  • Morse Code[6]
  • Philosophy and Smoked Fish[6]
  • Sneaking[6] - final exam involves the instructor entering a small cabin, with a floor covered in glass figurines, in the middle of a leafy woods and sitting blindfolded in a chair. To pass, the class has to sneak up on them by midnight.
  • Theatrics[7] - involves learning how to convey coded messages in melodramatic dialogue.
  • Rhetorics

Other known incidents from training:

  • Children are taught that they should never have serious conversations in a position in which you have to look up at the other person.[2]
  • Children are taken into the woods to spend several nights.[4]
  • Mountain-Climbing and/or Cave-Exploration Training[7]
  • Learning to read hidden codes on maps.[12]
  • The definition of "epistemology" is taught.[6]
  • How to make a grappling hook.[6]

Netflix Series

Some lessons are mentioned in the A Series of Unfortunate Events Netflix Adaptation but not in the books, throwing slight doubt onto their canonicity. They are:

  • Archery Training of some kind - involved learning to hit an olive with a bow and arrow.[10]
  • Dancing - specifically the waltz is mentioned.[10]
  • Some form of Poison Recognition Training - described as learning how to determine if a poison had been added to cheese fondue without tasting it.[10]


When a volunteer graduates, they are to choose their chaperone and become an apprentice to them. Apprenticeship should involve learning from their chaperone in an area of interest. Potential apprentices can choose their chaperones from a list of chaperones, ranked by their success in their various endeavors.[2] It is unknown how long apprenticeship lasts or how it ends. After apprenticeship, Volunteers are expected to take jobs or go into the field.[1]


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