Becoming a Volunteer Firefighter at KAUST – An Interview with the Fire Chief, Greg Burnell

By | November 4, 2018

About a year ago, my husband became a volunteer firefighter at KAUST. I can see that he’s really enjoyed the mental and physical challenge of joining this group, and I am beyond proud of him for supporting our community resilience in this way. I’m actually pretty jealous of his participation, and while I’m not technically a member of the KAUST Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD), I regularly attend and/or support their activities.

Recently, the kids and I even participated in the filming of a fire safety video. I encourage you to watch it, but I warn you, the song is very catchy!

A few people I’ve spoken with have expressed an interest in learning more about KVFD, so I arranged an interview with the Fire Chief, Greg Burnell, about the volunteer force. Learn more from the Chief, in his own words.

What is the KAUST Volunteer Fire Department (KVFD)?

Greg Burnell, KAUST Fire Chief

The KAUST Volunteer Fire Department is an integral part of the KAUST Fire Department that offers supplementary manpower in the event of KFD Resources being stretched beyond capacity. These could include large scale incidents, multiple incidents, time consuming situations, or public event safety. KVFD has a huge role in scaling our numbers and enables the traditional Fire Department to carry out functions without needing outside assistance.

How does KVFD support the traditional fire department?

The KAUST Fire Department is responsible for emergency response and education within the Health, Safety, and Environment division at KAUST. Our role is to:

  • Ensure that if an incident happens, we can respond rapidly and appropriately
  • Keep the community safe through education and preventative measures.

Volunteer departments were initially established by settling colonists many centuries ago when infrastructure developed and so too did the perils and risk of fire become apparent. So the volunteer concept has always signified a community looking after itself.

In a close-knit community such as KAUST, we all have a vested interest in one another’s safety and wellbeing. KAUST is so unique in this regard – we all work together, live together and play together. The interaction between the traditional KFD and KVFD has become so important to both groups who, when the chips are down, will work shoulder to shoulder in a seamless manner as brothers and sisters.

What is it like to be a Volunteer Fire Fighter?

Being a volunteer carries a sense of pride just like any Firefighter – the skills and knowledge gained never leave you.

The volunteers at KAUST come from all over the world – from KSA, Philippines, Belgium, Ireland, Pakistan, USA, The Netherlands, Malaysia, England, Romania, Latvia, Australia, Lebanon, Portugal, and many more. The beauty is that the skills and education translate into all of these languages. Firefighters all over the world share common challenges, joys, camaraderie, and also share the same difficulties. Being a volunteer means being a part of that – it is life enhancing, character building, and empowering!

It is also a nice diverse unique selling point on any CV. The teamwork, inter-dependence, dedication, community spirit – all are extremely useful skills to have.

My husband describes KVFD as “fun”. What are the social elements of KVFD?

We are very conscious of the social element of KVFD and conduct the training and activities with that in mind, trying to make it as fun as possible for the volunteers. And really, I’m overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the volunteers. They seem to love both the physical aspect and the theory aspect of the role, and they seem to be really tied together and cohesive as a group. I think it breaks up their week a bit and gives them something new to focus on, which they’re enthusiastic about as well.

What commitment does a volunteer make?

The volunteers make a commitment to attend training every Wednesday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. This precious time is used to develop specific disciplines such as Basic Firefighting, Pump Operation, Breathing Apparatus Support, Incident Command Support, Station Routine, and First aid. There are also some other tailor-made trainings outside of those times.

We also ask that, if called on, they will be available to assist during an incident. The important caveat to all this, of course, is that we understand that they are volunteers and that their jobs come first.

What is your favorite thing about KVFD?

Without a doubt, the friendship and connection that I feel towards the members of KVFD is a humbling and wonderful thing, and I am so fortunate to be part of this inspirational group of diverse individuals who gel into a singular group every Wednesday Night for 2 hours – they are my favorite moments.

How can interested KAUST community members learn more and get involved with KVFD?

Email us at or come along any Wednesday night to the Fire Station from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. to get a taste for what KVFD is all about.


Photo slideshow of KVFD activities

A final note from Claire: This really is a great opportunity for anyone looking for something new to get involved with at KAUST. Thank you to Donal, Greg, and Kevin for your collaboration in the creation of this post.