Alex Caudle was voted Firefighter of the Year by his fellow volunteers at the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and learned of his award at the CVFD’s annual awards dinner at King Family Vineyard in Crozet Sept. 23.
In a moving ceremony, marked by humor and hugs, the department marked the sacrifices and heroism of the last year.
The evening began with a call for a special remembrance of Chris Rollin, a CVFD volunteer now serving in Afghanistan. Then Crozet United Methodist Church Pastor Doug Forrester, the CVFD’s chaplain, gave an invocation, praising the firefighters as “models of courage and servant leadership.”
Next, with silent solemnity, the department’s honor guard marched the length of the room in short ceremonial steps, silver axes in the place of rifles, their flags, tipped with fire hooks, tapping the hanging chandeliers and setting them swinging. The volunteers in their crisp dress blue uniforms and their families and friends stood with dignity and pride as the colors passed and then retired.
Chief Preston Gentry called on them “to recommit to making Crozet a stronger department.
“We don’t put up posters or shout obscenities,” he continued. “We live the brotherhood of man everyday. Be proud of your firehouse.”
He asked the life members to stand and about two dozen rose.
“Life members got us where we are today,” said Gentry. Each received a plaque with the CVFD’s 1938 Seagrave engine engraved on it and a slot for his badge to be displayed from.
“For a lifetime of service to his community,” he read out. Many of the life members felt touched at getting the plaque. They looked back through memories of camaraderie in the face of gruesome tragedies and among the score of tables to see who of the company still stood.
A memorial to the deceased volunteers was rung on the department’s gleaming silver bell. Fifteen clear tones were struck in the silent hall. “Their last alarm,” said Gentry.
The CVFD received an unexpected gift of $130,130 from the estate of Sarah and Isabel Dunn, and local historian Phil James gave the firefighters a brief account of the lives of the dedicated schoolteacher sisters of Free Union. “They lived frugal lives and left many large gifts to their community. And they loved the ones who served it,” he summed up.
Carroll Conley, former owner of Barnes Lumber Company, was called to the podium and made an honorary member of the department and given an authentic helmet. Conley let the CVFD volunteers working in the lumberyard drop their jobs to dash to alarms.
“Hearing those bells brought back memories of guys I grew up with. You volunteer firemen mean a lot to me,” Conley said with conviction. He brought up Jack Apperson and Ed Grimes and the years of hours they put in at the station. He reminded them that the CVFD had been essential to the formation of the Peachtree League.
“I see many fathers and sons in this department. You raised your families to be respectful and to serve your community. The roots go deep. I thank you so much.
“You fight the battle, but you haven’t won the war. You have to come back,” said Conley.
“You guys are my heroes. When I see you passing I say a prayer for you and the people you are going to save. We respect you and we love you. God bless the Crozet Fire Department.”
The Chief’s Award went to Mike Boyle, who joined the CVFD six years ago after he moved here from Louisiana.
The President’s Award went to Donna Pugh. Stoic and indispensible, she had organized the dinner.
Community Service Awards went to the Albemarle Sheriff’s Office (Sheriff Chip Harding accepted it), Troy Miller, Mike Marshall of the the Crozet Gazette, and Ray Wyant.
V.L. James was named Coach of the Year for getting the firemen ready to face the Peachtree coaches in a doubleheader slated for the Fouth of July celebration but cancelled by the derecho.
Rodney Rich Jr, son of the CVFD president, was given the Something Very Special Award, the mangled weed-eater he had accidentally backed an engine over.
“Now we’re serious,” said Gentry. “There was a call Nov. 10, 2011 at 7:51 p.m. A car was on fire in a tree very near here.” He pointed towards Half-Mile Branch Road. “Three people were trapped and it was burning bad.
“This gentleman braved it. He was in imminent danger.”
He had come to the scene from nearby on hearing the call and did not have his fire protection gear. But he was well trained and he used his training, Gentry noted.
Others were at the scene watching but unwilling to approach the car, he added.
“He pulled the driver out and across the road. He pulled the ex-husband out. His feet were burning. He got him to the side of the street. The girl was difficult, but he got her out. If not for him, all three would have burned alive. I can think of no worse death. Unfortunately, two died later, but he gave them a second chance. He risked his life.”
Gentry read out the inscription on a statue of a fireman: “The Lifesaver Award to Warren ‘Hubba’ Wood for disregard of his safety. Proudly presented.
“Thank God, we don’t have to give out many of these.”
The culminating award was Firefighter of the Year, the one voted on by the volunteers.
“This is the judgment of your peers,” announced Gentry. “This is about leadership and the ability to interact.” He paused gravely. “He gets it done. He is a fine young man. Alex Caudle.”
Caudle rose from his chair, his shoulders square, his chest raised.