Are you Down To Fight Fire? The Volunteer Firefighter Podcast.
Volunteer fire departments around the world protect their communities every day using limited resources compared to larger city departments, and each volunteer firefighter faces unique challenges as a result. These departments form the backbone of fire and rescue in much of the world. Yet, the training and resources available to volunteer firefighters is often very different from the resources that are designed for city departments. This is where the Volunteer Firefighting Podcast comes in.
Also known as DTFF (or Down To Fight Fire), the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast brings weekly discussions on their experiences as volunteer firefighters to the wider world. After prior failed attempts to start a podcast on different topics with a less clear vision, they realized that they had overlooked their common denominator. The men behind the podcast were all volunteer firefighters and were, in fact, recording their podcast in their fire hall. So what did they do? They start the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast, where they discuss fighting fires as volunteers and citizens of their communities. Their first episode aired on August 7th of 2018 with what they describe as “really terrible audio”, but over time they have improved their recording quality and built their audience to where it is today: they have over 190 highly rated episodes and counting. People listen to their podcast in countries around the world.
The hosts are all volunteer firefighters themselves from Oliver Fire and Rescue in Oliver, British Columbia. Todd Kunz has been a firefighter for over 24 years and is currently a captain at Oliver Fire and Rescue. For the last 22 years he has also been a paramedic, which is his primary career. Scott Schaffrick has been a firefighter for 15 years and is the department training officer. By day, he works at the local sheriff’s office. Finally, Ash Regner has been a firefighter for 10 years and is also a captain in Oliver. During the day, however, he is a retail auto parts manager. These guys are truly volunteers. They aren’t ever waiting for the call to action. Rather, they go about their lives like most others but with the added complexity of knowing that at any moment they might have to drop everything and go save lives. “When I first started here, part of my interview was ‘Does your spouse or significant other understand what volunteering means?’,” explained Todd. “You know, you could be running out of the dinner table, running out on anniversaries, and you don’t know when you’re going to be home.” It’s a struggle particular to the volunteer firefighting experience for both the volunteers themselves and their families, who know that they have to make sacrifices to help others. Volunteer departments often don’t have direct support from other departments, so the pressure is on volunteer firefighters to show up every time no matter what.
The town of Oliver is located at the southern end of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, near the United States border. It is a largely agricultural community specializing in fruit production for the wine industry. The land itself consists of rather dry grassland and wooded hills which add to the unique challenges of the Oliver Fire Department; they often find themselves dealing with wildfires on their own. As Ash explained, “Our coverage area is actually one of the biggest that the province has in overall coverage area for a single hall department. We went back and spoke with BC Wildfire and they informed us that for a large portion of this mountain side that runs along the valley we don’t assist BC wildfire. We are the show…”. It doesn’t take long for fires to get out of control under these conditions and, in addition, the fires in the area can often be difficult to get to using a traditional pumper truck. Oliver Fire and Rescue’s solution? A side-by-side ATV. “It’s a challenge. There’s no easy access. It’s very, very vertical to get to it. So, by the time that you respond, you hike up there with limited gear and then try to action the fire. You run out of water quickly. You’re trying to deploy multiple people to this area quickly. It was a challenge. So, we sat down as a group and thought of all the ways that we could get ourselves out there, and the side-by-side idea came up,” said Ash. With this in their arsenal they plan to be able to traverse the rocky hills of the area with far greater maneuverability so they can get to the scene of a fire and get it under control more quickly. It is out-of-the-box thinking like this that sets volunteer fire departments apart. Their struggles are always unique to their locale and require more custom and creative solutions. This is the insight provided by the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast. It might not always be ordinary, by-the-book problem solving, but there are always creative solutions based on the volunteers’ own lived experiences.
That being said, the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast crew obviously views an emphasis on training as key to success at fighting fires. However, it isn’t about going through the motions and understanding the basic mechanics of what has to happen. Instead they focus on learning through adversity. It isn’t the successful training exercises or service calls that people learn from, but the ones where mistakes are made. It’s by reviewing these events that real learning and improvement starts to take place. In Oliver, the firefighters sit down after every call to discuss how it went, what needs to be improved on, et cetera. This is essentially what the podcast does as well. It isn’t an audiobook on how to be a volunteer firefighter. As Scott described it, “Basically we just talk about what we know and what we think works. We don’t try to preach a lot of NFPA or a lot of this and that. We just say ‘Hey, this works for us’”. It is a discussion involving experienced non-professionals who share their unique knowledge. The goal is that it will help someone else improve their methods of saving lives in their own communities. Oliver Fire and Rescue reviews their past fire calls to support their own team. The Volunteer Firefighting Podcast does this to support everyone else.
One of the other things that sets the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast apart is their lighthearted approach to the serious work of fighting fires. As Scott mentioned in a recent video with Motis, “What we’ve discovered is, when we make training fun and exciting and people get to do kind of badass stuff, that’s what keeps people coming. And, now we talk about it.” By keeping their discussions about their training as fun as the training is itself, they make it a more pleasurable experience to listen to their discussions. No boring lectures with these guys. Only fun and exciting talk of how to put out fires and save lives.
The fun isn’t only found in fire training though. You can tell that making the podcast itself has been a great source of enjoyment to the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast crew. They also hope to one day bring that fun to other departments, hitting the road to visit volunteer firefighters around North America to bring their stories and insights to the larger community as well. Until that day comes, however, the DTFF guys will keep on sharing their discussions with you through the podcast and, with any luck, grow their audience to bring even more firefighters in on the conversation.
You can check out the Volunteer Firefighter Podcast/DTFF on your favorite podcast player apps. You can also follow them on their social media. Find them at facebook.com/VFFPodcastDTFF, follow them on Instagram (@dtffpodcast), watch them on YouTube, or connect with them on LinkedIn.