Rescue Squad Honors Its Volunteers

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Kosta Alibertis, Bill Wood and Raven Curtis
Kosta Alibertis, Bill Wood and Raven Curtis

The Western Albemarle Rescue Squad honored its volunteers and, to their surprise, showed off its newly arrived “heavy rescue” truck at its annual awards dinner at King Family Vineyard in Crozet February 6.

David Booth was named the Volunteer of the Year, Raven Curtis received the Frances Henry Award, which goes to the volunteer who ran the most calls (Curtis ran 126), and Haydon Pitchford was named Rookie of the Year. Curtis also received the Chief’s Award and Melanie Welcher received the President’s Award.

The evening began with a tribute to Richard Martin, a cofounder of the squad, who died in October and was also honored at the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s annual awards night.

Martin’s widow Jenny recalled Martin’s signal contribution to WARS.

To the soundtrack of a bagpipe rendition of Amazing Grace and Jo Dee Messina’s Heaven Needed a Hero, a slide show that depicted Martin’s life opened with a black mourning band covering part of the WARS logo. The opening shot was Martin cutting hay with his old Fordson tractor near Jarmans Gap Road.

Bill Wood and Melanie Welcher
Bill Wood and Melanie Welcher

“I’d like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the Western Albemarle Rescue Squad does for this community,” said Jenny Martin.

The squad was formed at a meeting held in the basement of Crozet United Methodist Church in 1977, she recounted. “Richard played an integral part. He saw the suffering when response time was not what it should be. He and Jim Crosby started talking and that’s what brought those 11 people together that rainy night. He talked to people everywhere—and you know him—he told everybody over and over and over and over and over again as only he could do. . . . We needed transport for the squad and so he went to Spotsylvania and looked a piece of junk. Dick said, ‘I reckon we can make it run.’ They took it out on the Interstate to see if they could blow it up, and it didn’t blow up. In our first year we ran 200 calls–this year was a record of 1,500 calls. We furnished the old firehouse with Early American hand-me-downs.

“There are only a few pictures of Richard in public roles,” noted Martin. “He always preferred to work behind the scenes. He was relentless to get WARS going. There was no GPS then or ECC [Emergency Communications Center]. People called directly to the squad house. Ladies would dispatch for us from the firehouse. They had Dick’s phone number. The dispatcher would call and they wouldn’t know where somebody lived. Dick would say something like, ‘Meet me at Wyant’s Store and I’ll take you there.’

“On Dick’s last day I called 911 and I knew help was on the way. They came through the door and I knew he was in good hands. They gave him every opportunity to live they possibly could. God had another plan. Thank you not just for him but for what you do for everyone. He’s riding with you everyday.”

Wood took some teasing over his penchant for cheese balls
Wood took some teasing over his penchant for cheese balls

The crowd of nearly 100 rose in an ovation, applauding her speech. Squad president Bill Wood then presented Martin with a blanket bearing the squad’s logo as a keepsake. Wood, normally an antic quipster, was visibly moved and he choked up.

In announcing the awards, Wood credited Pitchford with “fortitude” and Welcher he said answered the award’s demand for a “significant contribution.” Booth, he said, “gets everything done around the squad house.” Last year he installed shelves and closets.

Life memberships were awarded to Ross Anderson, Will Barnhardt, Stacey Hosenfeld and Paul Summers. Each got a blue and gray squad blanket too.

Wood, finally, was teased for bringing a steady supply of tubs of Utz cheese balls to the squad house.

Then came the annual slide show of life on the squad, and the booming soundtrack was like being at U.Va.’s John Paul Jones Arena. Slides showed squad members’ view from the front seat of an ambulance dashing to an accident scene, at a truck fire, in the Crozet Independence day parade, at U.Va. football games, at the scene of a horse trailer toppled into a ditch, at Mint Springs Park, in a snow storm, at night accidents, at Crozet Park, at the squad TV room, backing their new number 505 heavy rescue vehicle into a squad house bay (It’s a very close fit.), joking around in the kitchen, with their pals in the CVFD, at training events, on the back deck sleeping, and dancing at the awards dinner.

Last fall WARS instituted a Water Rescue Team after going through a training course on the James River in Richmond. “It’s very expensive training,” said Wood. “We’ve already been called out of our area.”

As the program wound down, the screen scrolled the names of all the volunteers. “The organization is not one individual. All of those [names] make it happen,” said Wood. “Our people are hungry and young and aggressive and they want to do it.”

WARS, proud of its slogan “All Volunteer, All the Time,” currently has 80 volunteers and it ran 1,525 calls in 2015.

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