Firehouse News: Axe Men


by Tom Loach

Well summer is here and my thoughts go back to a time that found me sitting on the curb with all the neighborhood kids watching the world go by.  School’s out and after a week or two of celebrating no more classes we’re all bored with nothing to do.  Without fail, to break the silence someone will offer up those age-old questions, those which—we all agree—no one has ever had an answer for.

Questions like which came first, the chicken or the egg. Or, if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around, does it make noise?

I’ve never figured out the chicken and egg question, but when it comes to trees falling and making noise, I have the answer, and it is: it depends. It depends if the tree falls onto a roadway in Albemarle County in or around Crozet, because if it does, even if no one is around, the noise it makes is my fire pager going off.  I’m not sure if most people know it, but if a tree falls in the county and blocks the road, the chances are it will be the fire department that’s called and not the Virginia Department of Transportation.

I remember the first time I was at the fire house and one of these calls came in. At first I figured it must be a mistake. Why would anyone call the fire department for a tree down? When I asked why we’re being called I got the usual answer:“Just get in the truck.”

I have to tell you the next thing that came to mind was this thought: what kind of fire department did I join? First I’m asked to go into someone’s house on an animal rescue call to chase all sorts of furry forest creatures and now I’m supposed to play forest ranger. It’s not that we don’t learn to use a chain saw in basic firefighting class. We do, but we learn to use the saw to cut holes in a roof to ventilate and release hot gases.  Riding in the back of the brush truck I said to myself, no problem, I can do this. After all, I watch the reruns of Axe Men on TV.  While carving up a tree in the road is certainly not as exhausting a fighting a house fire, it can be just as dangerous.  Just the fact that you’re operating in the middle of a road, usually in bad weather and frequently at night, means you’re at risk from traffic.

I’m sure if you ask any firefighter they can tell you stories of people who ignored their signal to stop and drove past them because the driver thought they could squeeze around the tree.  Add to this the fact that when a tree falls it often takes the electrical lines with it and that adds the chance of electrocution to the mix. And speaking of electricity, since we’re often out in a storm, there’s often the danger of lightning. The fact is you’re standing there in the middle of the road with a large metal chain saw. Hey, one more hazard you have to be aware of.

Like the recent Red Flag day with its heat and low humidity that started multiple brush fires, the thunderstorms that seem to come in waves put a tremendous strain on all of the fire departments in the county. Because of the sporadic nature of the storms, it’s not unusual to get a call for help from neighboring fire departments and on several occasions we have even been called into the city to lend a hand.

During one recent storm—that by most standards was not that severe—the Crozet Fire Department had at least eight calls in a two hour period. Our brush trucks and crews were kept very busy.  I can tell you it doesn’t take long to remember just how heavy wood is. By the time the storm has passed and all the calls have been answered, I for one am very glad to get in the truck and head home.

One other thing I’ve learned is that when responding to these calls, even if it’s not raining, when you get to the fire house don’t forget to shut your car windows.

On a side note, I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to thank the community for its support at the recent car raffle and for your contributions to our annual fund drive.  In the coming months I hope to update you on how your generosity is helping to improve the service our fire department provides the community. In the meantime keep an eye on our web site at for the most up-to-date news on what’s going on with your fire department.