Fitzgerald Named Firefighter of the Year at CVFD Awards Dinner

Mike Boyle and Preston Gentry
Mike Boyle and Preston Gentry

The Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s annual awards dinner, held November 13 at King Family Vineyards, is a festive affair, but it opens with a solemn remembrance of the CVFD’s recently departed members.

The color guard, firefighters in dress uniforms, two carrying flags flanked by two with silver axes, marched the length of the room to the fireplace wall and stood at attention as the silver bell was rung. This year it pealed in honor of Robert Kindrick, Carroll Conley, Jerry Finazzo, Lewis Mawyer, Gilbert Shifflett, Sandy Campbell and Shirley Cook.

CVFD chaplain Walt Davis of Life Journey Church offered an invocation, giving thanks “from the depths of my heart for these men and women who serve our community so faithfully. We celebrate their hard work.” With that the colors were retired and the crowd of about 120 dug into a catered supper provided  by Country Cupboard Catering of Waynesboro featuring flavorful fried chicken and pork tenderloin with the customary sides.

CVFD president Rodney Rich called for new volunteers from Crozet’s new residents and noted with pride that the service has been all-volunteer since 1910.

The night’s guest speaker was Col. Joel Jenkins, a retired army officer who is now the interim pastor of Hillsboro Baptist Church in Yancey Mills.

“I’m having a good time at Hillsboro Baptist,” he said. “This community is very special. You have a reputation for taking care of one another. You have a lot of folks who step up and help their neighbor.

“The term volunteer is very important to me. Having been in the all-volunteer army, I know how important it is. . . . We are in a protracted conflict with all volunteers. This is the longest period of conflict in the nation’s history. It has surpassed the Vietnam War. People are in harm’s way tonight,” Jenkins reminded them.

From Left: Will Von Hemert, Mike Rabin, Mitch Fitzgerald, Christian Torres, Butch Snead and Will Schmertzler
From Left: Will Von Hemert, Mike Rabin, Mitch Fitzgerald, Christian Torres, Butch Snead and Will Schmertzler

“Don’t lose the volunteer from your name. You have stood up and said, ‘Count me in!’  Twenty-five percent of the people who died in the Twin Towers were first responders. They are a very special group of people who were running in when 22,000 people were trying to get out.

“Your reward is your sense of purpose being fulfilled because you stood in the gap. You put your life on the line. You’re ready to go in the middle of the night, 24-7. You live on the edge, being on call. You are the thin line. We’re sleeping in our beds. We’re taking for granted that you are up.

“I want to thank you for what you are doing. Keep it up. You’re a great unit. You take care of your folks. You’re about others. God bless you for it.”

Jenkins’ speech was extemporaneous and heartfelt. He kept everyone’s attention and struck home.

CVFD chief Mike Boyle presented him with a CVFD cap and T-shirt in appreciation.

Crozet businesses had donated about 25 door prizes for the evening. They were drawn for with Judy Schmertzler handling the call-out of raffle ticket numbers. She and Donna Pugh of the CVFD auxiliary had organized the event.

A Community Service Award was presented to Valeria Salvantachek, the pastry chef at Mountainside Senior Living, for kindness to the volunteers. A second was given to the assisted living facility itself for its generous support of the needs of the department. The CVFD evacuated the upper floors of the building using its ladder truck during the derecho of 2012 when power was knocked out.

A third Community Service Award went to Tom Loach, a member, for his diligent efforts to get county approval for the new digital signboard outside the firehouse.

A fourth award went to Gary and Tavia Dillon (each got a plaque) for organizing the Crozet Christmas parade, which now draws about 30 entries. The couple also arranges the town’s Fourth of July parade.

The President’s Award went to Elise Lindquist, who was on the duty crew that night, which did get called out early in the dinner, but made it back.

Boyle presented a Special Recognition Award to former Chief Preston Gentry for his dedication and service.

“Mike, it’s a difficult job to be chief and you’re doing a good job,” Gentry said as he accepted. Facing the crowd he added, “Let’s continue to get better and better each year.”

Will Schmertzler also got that award, which brought an especially warm round of applause from the crowd. He’s been with the CVFD for 19 years.

The Junior Firefighter of the Year Award went to Christian Torres. He had joined in answering 193 calls and put in 1,750 hours with the department.

The Chief’s Award went to Will Van Hemert. “He is truly the meaning of volunteer,” said Boyle. “He takes it above and beyond. If we could be half the man he is . . . Out of 800 calls last year, he ran 334. Without guys like you we couldn’t make it as an all-volunteer department.” Boyle noted that Firefighter One training classes now require 200 hours. At age 17, Van Hemert has already achieved Firefighter Two.

Chief’s Awards also went to Schmertzler and Butch Snead.

Mike Rabin, who received last years’ Firefighter of the Year honors, which is voted on by the membership, made this year’s presentation.

“This award is earned and recognized, “ said Rabin, who kept up the suspense about whose name would be called. “He’s not about himself. He’s dedicated to bettering the department. He’s a huge inspiration to me. He’s a super individual—Mitch Fitzgerald.”

Fitzgerald approached the podium with modesty but there was a pride in his carriage. He stood a moment with his shoulders square and his chin up and quietly accepted the congratulations of the room. He had almost nothing to say, except to compliment Miranda Lacey, his longtime girlfriend, most tenderly. He knows that behind every volunteer who serves is another who supports without expecting to be noticed.


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