Gary Matoso, the creative director with Vignette, films
Exeter Volunteer Fire Department members training on the new Jaws of Life.
The Exeter Volunteer Fire Department was spotlighted last
week as the film company Vignette came to town and spent nearly the entire week
filming fire department members in their everyday lives as well as using rescue
The film company plans to create a documentary about volunteer
fire departments which “is the centerpiece of a larger goal which is to inspire
people to serve in their communities,” according to producer and casting
director Louise Colette.
The idea for the project came from producer Peter
Yoakum. He was aware that fire departments are struggling with
recruitment especially in volunteer units. At the time he felt so much
divisiveness in the country, “I wanted to find something everyone could feel
Colette explained they “are partnering with the National
Volunteer Fire Council to help them and all departments at large.”
They plan to tell the stories of eight departments from
around the country, “No two departments are alike. The way they train,
work. . .we hope to paint as broad a picture as we call. We want to focus
on the diversity of the departments and also on the personal motivation of the
volunteers,” described Colette.
Exeter was in a pool of 600 departments who applied to be
part of the project. After five or six zoom calls with the producer they
were chosen, according to Exeter Rescue Captain Hope Strate.
They will film in California, Washington, New York,
Virginia, Washington D.C. and Texas in addition to their stop in Exeter.
Not all of the departments are rural. In Washington State they recorded
at a training academy and the Virginia department they will visit is rural but
of course, D.C. is urban.
Their plan is to have viewers learn about the opportunities
for volunteering and to bring public awareness of the need for these essential
workers. They plan to “connect on an emotional level,” added Colette.
In addition to the initial idea for the project Yoakum has
been working to secure the finances for the project. So far, John Deere
has stepped up to be a major sponsor. He is looking for a matching grant from
companies who have “a vested interest in rural communities.”
He explained that John Deere was motivated to be a part of
the documentary as they have “a lot of customers and employees who are
volunteer fire fighters and farmers need fire departments.”
They aren’t sure how the film will be distributed but plan
to take it to film festivals next year. “We will be offering it free to
any and all fire departments to use as a recruiting tool. We hope they
will have events and have Q and A sessions to start conversations,” added
Yoakum confirmed that their primary objective in the
documentary was to recruit 25,000 new volunteer fire fighters. He
explained that the National Fire Protection Association estimates that the
defrayed cost per fire fighter is $66,000 per year.
“This is what you what you would pay for a career fire
fighter if you didn’t have a volunteer,” Yoakum explained. “With over one
million viewers we hope to recoup a $1.5 billion impact.”
Yoakum was impressed with the Exeter community right off the
bat, “The town has been so welcoming.”
The production company has spent time with Strate and
long-time department members Alan and Shari Michl. They have filmed them
both in their home and at work, even riding on the school bus with Alan as he
did his morning route. They also spent time filming at the Farmers
Cooperative in Exeter where several department members are employed.
Above - Members of the Vignette film company discuss plans for their
evening with Exeter Volunteer Rescue Captain Hope Strate. Pictured
clockwise from the left are Louise Colette, Austin Slayton, Cameron Zohoori,
Strate and Gary Matoso.
Above – The Vignette crew at the Exeter Fire Hall from the left:
Austin Slayton (audio), Cameron Zohoori (lead camera/editor), Louise Colette
(producer), Gary Matoso (creative director) Peter Yoakum (producer) and Lyle
Below – Members of the Exeter Volunteer Fire Department posed
with the Vignette crew. From the left: Shari Michl, Vicki Androyna, Lane
Strate, Hope Strate, Alan Michl, Louise Colette, Ken Strate, Cameron Zohoori,
Austin Slayton, Gary Matoso, Peter Yoakum and Lyle.