Co-writers and co-directors Cameron Zohoori and Gary Matoso take a look at volunteer fire departments in Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat. The documentary jumps from small town to small town all over the United States. A few of the firefighters are in California, others are near the D.C. city limits on the Maryland side, and one is in New York. What do all these communities have in common that requires a volunteer firefighting force? What drives someone to volunteer, having to work the titular odd hours for essentially no pay?
There are some 700,000 volunteer firefighting departments across the U.S. of A. While each department is unique, there are striking similarities to all of them. The main thing is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, the volunteers feel X town is their home and want to help it as best they can. Given the job’s demands, feeling a true connection to it is the only way to make this rewarding. The departments are also always in need of volunteers.
“…700,000 volunteer firefighting departments across the U.S. of A.”
Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat works as a love letter to these brave souls. Edward Park chose to volunteer because his family would’ve lost everything if not for the volunteer firefighters at that time. Jenna Dunbar dreamed of being a firefighter as a kid, but she excelled at basketball and pursued that through college. But now she’s chasing her original dream. In New York, Yitzy Grunwald, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, hounded the department until the city passed new legislation allowing him to serve in one capacity or another. This is but a sample of the raw, inspiring stories shared throughout the film. While a few moments are sad, the filmmakers are here to uplift and showcase these people’s unyielding bravery. By zeroing in on just a handful of stories in just a few select cases, the filmmakers highlight how everyone is welcome and can help their community.
Also, the cinematography by Zohoori and Matoso is jaw-dropping. These small towns are surrounded by gorgeous fields or a sprawling urban jungle. Each is captured with the same loving gaze and intensity as they bring to the narrative. A shot of a reaper circling about a crop field ablaze is magnificent. The angles achieved during the numerous trainings wonderfully highlight the brutal nature the firefighters put their bodies through.
Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat is a loving tribute to volunteer firefighters. The directors show how caring and sweet and necessary anybody who joins up is. On the technical side, the pacing is excellent, and the visuals are top-notch.