Longtime Crozet volunteer firefighter Lewis Barnette was named Firefighter of the Year at the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s annual awards banquet at King Family Vineyards Nov. 12.
The hall at the vineyard was decorated in black, yellow and red and small firemen’s boots held bouquets of flowers as table centerpieces as the fire company’s honor guard opened the ceremonies. The CVFD has been gradually buying dress uniforms for the department and the firemen were sharply dressed. Their snappy dark blue jackets sported Crozet patches on the left shoulder.
The flags dipped and a silver bell at the lectern was solemnly rung “in honor of brothers and sisters who have gone on from the world and answered the last alarm,” said CVFD president Rodney Rich. Fifteen chimes were sounded in all. CVFD chaplain Doug Forrester of Crozet United Methodist Church offered the invocation. “We thank you for those who have answered the call to serve,” he said.
Tim Kersey, chief of the Scottsville volunteer department, a guest at the event, told the audience that CVFD Chief Preston Gentry has served them well in the struggle with county fire officials over how the volunteer departments will be managed. “Preston fights for what you believe,” he said, “to stay a volunteer department.” Then he told a story about how Gentry had gotten locked out of his hotel room at a conference in Philadelphia, wearing only a towel.
“The North will never be the same after I was there,” Gentry gamely responded.
“The heart of a volunteer is different,” Gentry went on. “Whenever we step onto the truck to answer a call, we should do it with the spirit of the firefighters in New York City who answered the call on 9/11.”
Local historian Phil James told the crowd about some of the department’s traditions and accomplishments. “I have never lived in a place that was not served by the CVFD,” he said. “As a kid, the highlight of my year was the Fourth of July parade and the carnival and the greasy pig race. Crozet firemen electrified Crozet with streetlights and they collected and repaired toys for children at Christmas. A lot of people have been giving to their community for a lot of years.” The CVFD celebrated its centennial as a volunteer department last year.
Gentry gave a Special Award to White Hall Supervisor Ann Mallek. “She is a strong advocate for volunteers. She has fought and fought and fought for volunteers. We have never had to ask where she stood.”
“I’m floored,” said Mallek on accepting. “I’m just doing my job. Your work every day is what makes this place so special.”
A Community Service Award went to Henry Shaver for fixing broken trucks. Another went to Trey Dillard for bringing his handsome Clydesdale horses and beer wagon to Crozet for Santa and Mrs. Claus to ride in in the Christmas parade.
Barnes Lumber Company owner Carroll Conley, who always let men leave the yard to answer fire alarms, also received a service award. A long drum roll of applause followed him as he walked back to his table.
The President’s Award went to Celeste Baldino. A broken tail light was presented to new firefighter Oliver Jacobs.
“A lot of people deserve the Chief’s Award,” said Gentry. “We have a strong team. If you give this person a task, it’s going to get done. He’s also a great recruiter for the department.” He called out Ty Milner’s name.
Announcing Lewis Barnette’s selection as Firefighter of the Year, Gentry said, “Whatever he’s asked to do, he just does it. He’s an old coot and we know we can depend on him. He’s seldom without a smile on his face.”
“This belongs to every one who answers a call,” said Barnette, visibly moved, as he held up the bronze fireman statue. “I’m proud to be a member of this department. Firefighters bond for life. When there is a fire and you look into the face of the man next to you, a calm comes over your heart.”
Josh Pugh and Matt Schmidt performed on guitar and banjo for the occasion and the very tasty dinner (with super-good fried chicken) was catered by Country Cupboard of Waynesboro.