Documentary focuses on dedication of volunteer firefighters

Featured in the documentary, “Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat,” Lt. Melissa Mainville is a key member of Little Fork Volunteer Fire and Rescue, a specialized team that in addition to other emergency responses handles large animal rescues in northern Virginia’s horse country.

HOXIE, Kan. — Steve Hirsch has been involved with volunteer fire departments his entire life.

“I was born in 1962 and my dad started the fire district in 1963, so it becomes part of your DNA,” said Hirsch, the chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council, which includes state associations across the nation.

“They were tired of wheat stubble or pasture ground starting on fire and burning down a house or barn, so they saw the value of a fire district,” said Hirsch about those who lived in Simpson in north-central Kansas.

“It was an FFA project, so my older brother was involved and they went door to door to get people to sign a petition to have a tax levy for a fire district,” he said. “My dad told the story that one person wouldn’t sign because he didn’t want his taxes to go up and that was the first person who had a fire.”

The National Volunteer Fire Council is focused on protecting and preserving the interests of volunteers across the nation.

“There’s about three-quarters of a million of us who volunteer in fire service to protect huge swaths of the U.S. that are covered by volunteer fire departments,” Hirsch said.

The council got involved with the “Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat” documentary after Hirsch was contacted by Peter Yoakum.

“He was interested in doing a story about people volunteering,” Hirsch said. “His concern was this country is divided on all sorts of issues, but he found volunteer firefighters are very united and committed to helping neighbors when they needed help.”

As a result, Yoakum interviewed a number of volunteers at the fire department in Hoxie.

“He showed the videos he shot to John Deere and they bid on the project because they recognize that most John Deere dealerships are in towns with volunteer fire departments,” Hirsch said.

In addition to John Deere, the 90-minute film is presented in association with the National Volunteer Fire Council, Hold Fast Features and Vignette.

“It includes individual stories from Nebraska, Washington, Virginia, New York and Texas,” Hirsch said.

Part of the focus of the documentary is to encourage people to join their volunteer departments.

“In my dad’s day, women were at home taking care of the kids and dads had time to go out fight fires and train,” Hirsch said. “Today that’s not reality because mom and dad both have jobs, and if they have kids, they’re probably at school every night of the week.”

Sometimes, Hirsch said, people think volunteer firefighters are less professional or competent.

“There is nothing further from the truth,” he said. “I’d stack my guys against any fire crew, anywhere in the U.S.”

Hirsch, who is an attorney, has folks with a variety of backgrounds involved with the town’s fire department such as an insurance agent and a couple of people that work at the John Deere dealership.

“When something needs to be done, they can generally figure out how to get it done,” he said.

In many towns, fire crews are not only putting out fires and attending to heart attacks, but they are also building fire equipment.

“Some communities don’t have enough money,” Hirsch said. “It’s hard to believe we have fire departments in this nation that still have dirt floors and some that don’t have water at their station.”

There are fire departments that operation on $3,000 to $4,000 budgets, the council chairman said.

“I don’t know how they possibly can, but they manage to get by,” he said. “Some firefighters are buying their own gear at a rate of $2,000 to $3,000 per person.”

“Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat,” now available to rent or buy on streaming platforms, takes audiences behind the lines of America’s volunteer fire service community.

Volunteer fire departments need help, which is why the documentary is critical, Hirsch said.

“People can’t be waiting an hour for a fire truck to show up from another community, people can’t wait 45 minutes suspended upside down in a seat belt for somebody to do an extraction and they can’t wait 30 to 40 minutes for someone to help when they’re having a heart attack,” he said.

Working as a volunteer firefighter is important to Hirsch.

“You couldn’t beat that out of me,” he said. “When I get up in the morning, I pray for my crews that none get hurt and at night I thank the Lord that nothing happened that day because it’s dangerous.”

“There’s nothing more fulfilling than being able to help someone when they’re having their worst day or holding someone’s hand when life is draining out of it and you’re the last one to touch that living hand,” Hirsch said.

However, some people do not want to run into a burning building, but most fire departments can use lots of other help.

“We need truck drivers who can drive the tanker truck from the station to the fire scene and we need people with clerical skills who can do fire reporting,” Hirsch said.

“We need people who can write grants and I’m always looking for a person willing to clean our bathroom,” he said.

“There’s not a fire department who couldn’t use a case of bottled water because hydration is pretty critical for firefighters who spend lots of hours on fire scenes.”

Fire departments should think in nontraditional ways for recruiting volunteers, Hirsch said.

“We have females in our fire department who are every bit as capable as men,” the council chairman said.

“Fire departments have to get young folks involved, those 15- to 17-year-old kids with explorer programs,” he said. “If you can set a hook in them early in life, you’ll land them because once the young folks see what we do they get hooked on it.”

Now the council is working on supporting the families of volunteer fireman.

“If it weren’t for our spouses, this would fall apart so we’ve got to do a better job of supporting our families,” Hirsch said.

“I’m so proud to be the leader of the volunteer fire service in the U.S.” he said. “And to be able to take care of our firefighters to make sure they are trained when they go out to help their neighbors.”

To learn more about the National Volunteer Fire Council, go to

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor