Fire is an irony. Without it, humanity could not have evolved past its primordial state. But it also plagues us, harms us, destroys us. The biggest fire in the universe as it relates to we here on Earth is our Sun. In a few billion years, it will flare and consume the planet.

That is beyond our control until technology comes up with a solution. What we can control, like no time before in history, is fire on Earth, and even that is only a recent development.

Though our ancestors began to master fire fifty to one hundred thousand years ago, probably not until most cities and towns had running water could we effectively put out fires that got beyond our control.

Though fire is not something we can extinguish permanently, we now have the means to face it to a draw.

The documentary film Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat, focuses on fire departments here in the United States—specifically ones with a volunteer force.

Indeed, the film tells us that of all firefighters around 75% are volunteers. That means almost every municipality relies on the good will of its citizens to lend their time in dealing with fire and other emergencies.

In fact, most firefighters –volunteer or otherwise—spend less time combating fires and more time dealing with other types of calls: accidents, illnesses, search and rescue missions, and animal recovery.

The film takes us around the country, to departments in rural parts of Nebraska, New York, Washington, and other places where no service would exist without volunteers.

The people we meet are diverse and have different motives for serving, but the film supports the idea that you don’t need to force quotas on organizations. Ask that people give the best of themselves for a goal that is worthy, and citizens will step forward—from any background.

Indeed, in a time when many public institutions seem to be shaped by ideology and corruption, this film demonstrates there is something still pure in America.

Everyone who has a political grudge or is screaming at someone else on social media should watch Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat, and they might realize a great deal of the country is protected and served by people not trying to ‘own’ or ‘destroy’ anyone else. Just the opposite: they want to help, to lend comfort.

The documentary is technically wonderful. It does not break any new ground in the genre, but it’s a slice of life story you probably don’t know much about.

The best takeaway for me is that in a time of great division this film shows we can still come together around some things. Let us beat our swords into fire hoses and do what we can to tackle a friend and foe –fire—as old as mankind.

About The Author

Randy Steinberg has been a Blast film critic since 2011. He has a Master's Degree in Film/Screenwriting from Boston University. He taught screenwriting at BU from 1999-2010. In 2020, he joined the Boston Online Critics Film Association (BOFCA). Randy can be contacted at his website:

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