Rockfish Valley Fire & Rescue Seek More Volunteers

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Curtis Sheets at the Nellysford station. Photo: Mary Cunningham.

A news event in the Rockfish Valley often includes Wintergreen Fire and Rescue in a dual response. When the call came to Rockfish Valley Volunteer Fire Department (RVVFD) in the morning of a house fire last December in Afton, Wintergreen was first on the scene. Other fire and rescue departments have volunteer crews with day jobs, making morning call response the most challenging. Before that fire was put out, volunteers from many other fire departments responded to assist.    

Rescue squad efforts cover a lot of ground. Wintergreen responds to hikers that need rescue from Humpback Rock to Reeds Gap, including Ravens Roost, Crabtree Falls and Harpers Creek. In November, several rescues of lost hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT) were made. Wintergreen fire chief Curtis Sheets tells many tales of lost hikers. “Some of the local climbing destinations require a technical rescue response with a team trained in rope rescue.” Long hours are spent in search and rescue efforts. The seven-person team is spread over shifts and staff two stations. Station one is on Wintergreen Mountain in Roseland and station two is at Stoney Creek on Monacan Drive in Nellysford.   

“With all the trees and debris closing roads, our rescue efforts would be more difficult today.” said Sheetz.  The closed Blue Ridge Parkway didn’t deter some travelers.  In January, a rescue was described on the Wintergreen Facebook page of a person driving their truck on a jeep road off the closed Parkway near Bald Mountain. The truck fell through ice and rescuers searched twelve miles of trail to find them. A four-wheel drive vehicle with a winch was required to complete that mission.

In an unusual recent event, a gunshot victim drove herself to the Stoney Creek station where trauma care and transport to Rockfish Fire Station in Afton was provided.  From there, a helicopter transported the victim to the University of Virginia Hospital. 

Sheets explained how the 28 full-time and 12 part-time employees blend with the volunteer crew to provide a 24-hour staff to Nelson County.  Rescue squads from Wintergreen, Rockfish, Roseland and Gladstone are all volunteer and work with nine paid staff in Nelson County Emergency Medical Service (EMS). Six women are on the 24-hour EMS crew of nine paid staff. Tammy Fore is the captain of EMS and has served the county for twelve years. 

Special equipment adds to high costs for the department. Photo: Mary Cunningham.

Sheets notes how dedicated volunteers come together and believes a shared history of hurricane Camille in 1969 taught residents the values that hold today. Tommy Harvey began serving as fire chief for RVVFD in 1984. He retired in 2015, yet continues to serve as Director of Emergency Services for Nelson County. Harvey recalled the car raffles started in 1984 by three people that ended in 2013 due to tax laws and upfront costs to a surprised winner. RVFFD is no longer dependent on funding by raffles, carnivals, bingo and other events. Currently, income is produced through leasing part of the building, propane storage, and fees from a cell tower.

The cost of fire and rescue service is high, Harvey explained, with one new pump truck costing an average of $500,000. The county has developed a system to pay water, phone and insurance expenses and provide a loan fund for vehicle costs. Hardship grants may be available for funding as needed. Harvey said RVVFD “is in good financial condition. 

“Family and job commitments reduce the roster of volunteers,” he said. There is no volunteer auxiliary for RVVFD.  Harvey and Sheets agree that volunteers’ time is needed. Volunteers can learn about training and activities at the regular department meetings at RVVFD on Rockfish Valley Highway in Afton on the first Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. 

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