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"As a young Black kid, I didn't see Black firefighters": Former Denver Bronco Chase Vaughn inspires community in new career

Former Denver Bronco inspires community in new career
Former Denver Bronco inspires community in new career 03:32

Behind the wheel of a fire engine is the last place Chase Vaughn ever thought he'd be.

"It's a whole different level of responsibility, and a lot more math involved," he said with a laugh.

It's a job he's grown to love. He just didn't think a guy like him could actually be a firefighter.


"As a kid, you see firefighters, but as a young Black kid, I didn't see Black firefighters," Vaughn told CBS Colorado's Kelly Werthmann. "So, for me at least, it didn't click that was an obtainable job for me to do."

So, growing up, he chased down a different dream. Vaughn followed his love of football from Smoky Hill High School in Aurora to Colorado State University in Pueblo. Eventually, he made it to the ultimate hometown team.

"I grew up around the Broncos and Broncos fans. For that to be the team that gave me my shot, that was awesome," Vaughn said.

As his time as a Denver Bronco came to a close, Vaughn wasn't sure what he could do after football. Until a firefighter – a Black firefighter – encouraged him to consider joining the fire service.

"That conversation was funny because I told him, 'Man, I don't know if I could run into a burning building.' And he said, 'Well, I used to play football and it's just like putting your helmet on and running down on kickoff. It's the same feeling.'," Vaughn explained.

Beyond a similar adrenaline rush, Vaughn saw it as an opportunity to do more in his hometown – in his community. Before long, he was on an engine with Aurora Fire Rescue.

"I wish I knew that firefighter's name. I know he worked for Denver Fire and it was a long time ago, but he said that and it planted the seed in my head, and it worked out,"   said Vaughn. ""

AFR Battalion Chief Brandon Sauder told CBS Colorado that Vaughn quickly adapted to his new firefighter role.

"He blended really nicely into the fire service because he understands the team aspect," Sauder said.

But what Sauder is perhaps most impressed by is Vaughn's impact on the department's culture.

"He's not scared or worried about difficult conversations," he said. "Chase has the bravery to do that."

Those conversations, Vaughn explained, are ones that may have been frowned upon – topics like race, religion and different cultures.

"We're going around and having those conversations with other firefighters so we can learn, and the more we can learn the better, I feel, we can serve our community," said Vaughn.

Outside of his 24-hour shifts, Vaughn volunteers his time with AFR's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion task force. From those tough conversations in the firehouse to getting crews to attend various community events around the city, Vaughn is helping change how Aurora Fire connects with each other and the public.

"I think it's important to have representation in your fire department," he said. "I think your fire department should be diverse like your city."

Aurora is one of the most diverse cities in Colorado. More than 40% of the population identifies as a race other than white. Right now, a little more than 4% of Aurora firefighters are Black, and about 8% are women. Vaughn said the task force is not only working to increase those numbers, but they're also actively taking steps to be more inclusive – like rebuilding fire houses to include women's bathrooms.

"Our goal is to make sure everyone feels included. Feeling like the department has your back, that's important. It's important as members of our DEI group to feel like we have the support from our higher-ups to do these things, to go out into the public and make sure that we're making this an inclusive place," he said.

It's not an instant thing, where we live in a world where everyone is looking for an instant fix, and it's not going to happen. We're talking a cultural change, and not just with the fire department, with the world. And that takes time. Ultimately, I think it's just about being connected to the people that you interact with daily," he continued. 

And that connection is making a difference.

"I've seen more interest from the community of, 'Oh, I can be a firefighter?' And that is a direct result of people like Chase," said Sauder.

Like Chas, who once believed being a firefighter was impossible, now showing others that no matter who you are, anything is possible.

"Even if it's one or two kids out there and see me and kind of do a doubletake, like, 'Oh shoot! It's a Black firefighter? That's pretty cool. Maybe I can do that.'," Vaughn said. 

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