Rural Heroes: John Deere Supports Volunteer Firefighters With Documentary Film

    Volunteers from Russiaville Volunteer Fire Department participate in grain dryer fire training at Miller Farms in Russiaville, Indiana. Of the 1.1 million firefighters in the U.S. today, more than 700,000 are volunteers who provide a vital service to rural communities across the country. (Russiaville Volunteer Fire Department)

    Farming looks different when you are saving your neighbor’s farm.

    Rural America is tightly woven by the threads of community. While the population is increasing, the number of volunteer firefighters is dwindling rapidly. John Deere and the National Volunteer Fire Council recognize the deficit and have partnered to educate and recruit volunteer firefighters to the call through their documentary film “Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat.”

    Approximately 75% of our country is protected by volunteer first responders, many of them farmers and ranchers. With their working knowledge of farm systems, building construction, mechanics, and an intrinsic passion for serving, they are ideal volunteer firefighters. With the recent spike in equipment costs and fuel, lack of training resources, and the growing population, rural fire departments have seen a large decline in both personnel and infrastructure. The COVID pandemic shut down many training opportunities for volunteer firefighters. An overall lack of time and bandwidth due to farm operation requirements and other family obligations for potential volunteers is also stunting the growth of the volunteer fire service as a whole.

    Volunteer fire departments have been greatly affected by the rapid inflation of equipment costs, fuel, and insurance for members. A new engine now costs, on average, $500,000 to $1 million. A new ambulance can have a price tag of more than $200,000. Many volunteer fire departments have resigned themselves to purchasing well-used and, in many cases, older emergency response vehicles just to have the ability to mitigate emergencies. These departments often have to cover the cost of gear and equipment in order to keep the service open.

    Why John Deere Supports Firefighters

    The company’s founder, John Deere, was a volunteer firefighter in the 1800s. Today, Deere employees volunteer their time and expertise to support volunteer fire departments across the country.

    Nate Clark, John Deere’s global director for corporate social responsibility and president of the John Deere Foundation, said Deere’s employees reported more than 13,000 hours volunteering as firefighters and emergency responders in 2022. John Deere, himself, fell victim to two fires before moving his business to Moline, Iowa. He never forgot the need to have emergency services directly on the site of his factory and built the Deere Hose Company in the 1870s.

    Together, John Deere and the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) have joined forces to support the new documentary film “Odd Hours, No Pay, Cool Hat.” The idea for the film came from the rich heritage of community partnership and volunteer service that has been paramount to protecting those in their greatest time of need. Farmers and firefighters often work hand in hand to respond to emergency calls for service during snow and thunderstorms. My husband has personally witnessed farmers bringing their own farm equipment to the homes of their neighbors to assist with the removal of trees in the aftermath of a tornado that swept through our area earlier this spring. Farmers are often seen at the site of field fires cultivating the farm ground to prevent expansion.

    According to the U.S. Fire Administration, emergency medical response accounts for nearly 75% of all emergency calls for service.  Though only a small percentage of these medical calls are for truly life-threatening situations, the dwindling number of EMS providers available to volunteer their time to respond to these calls only taxes the medically trained that much more. Farmers are human too. As is often the case, the farmer/volunteer firefighter will come home after a 16+ hour day in the fields or tending to the animals and go to bed exhausted.  A call for emergency response will be toned out at 3 a.m. at the house of a neighbor or colleague, and the farmer will get out of bed, get dressed, and respond to help in any capacity he or she can at that time. The sense of obligation to protect lives deep in the hearts of volunteer firefighters and their efforts deserved to be highlighted.

    These valiant efforts were not lost on John Deere Corporation and the National Volunteer Firefighter’s Association, who teamed up to highlight the sacrifices of farmers who give more to their communities than just a farm. The film is the result of countless hours of research by both organizations to benefit rural volunteer firefighters and their communities.

    How You Can Help

    Visit to watch the teaser, discover volunteer opportunities, and learn more about the “Make Me a Firefighter” initiative.

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