Facing a manpower shortage during weekday hours, the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department wrote to the County’s Fire and Rescue division in September to ask it to consider staffing the Crozet station during weekday business hours. The request marks a milestone in the CVFD’s 110 proud years as all-volunteer service and a hinge moment in the County’s long effort to bring the county’s volunteer departments under the control of the professional division. Only Crozet, Scottsville and the North Garden departments remain all-volunteer. All other County fire stations have county-paid staff.
“This is not something the department wants to do,” said Chief Gary Dillon. “But we have to.” “We have an obligation to this community to provide this critical service, and if we cannot do it at all times, we must make the hard decisions to seek help.”
“We don’t have the people we need to answer calls and the last thing we want is for the community to suffer for it,” explained past chief Preston Gentry, who has volunteered for 43 years.
The problem came to a head this summer and on August 27 the department held a meeting open to its membership to discuss the issue. Dillon presented three options to consider. First, ask the County for paid manpower help (while continuing to push recruiting efforts); second, make another recruitment push without an approach to the County; and third, do nothing and struggle on. By unanimous consent, the decision to approach the County was made. The department has 40 active members now (those who answer calls) and 27 attended the meeting.
The plan assumes the County will need two years to budget for the new positions and get additional firefighters trained. Dillon said that Crozet can use the help sooner than that if it’s possible. A call requires at least three firefighters to answer it.
“We do want to focus on recruiting,” said Dillon. “This doesn’t have to happen if we can recruit additional qualified members. It’s very sensitive to us because we are looking at 110 years of volunteer service. But we’re not getting the volunteers we need.”
The CVFD is on track to answer more than 900 calls in 2019. In June they answered 63 calls, in July 81 calls and in August 66 calls. A large percentage of the department’s calls are for car accidents, often on Interstate 64. Answering a call can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.
“Nights we’re covered, and weekends are okay, said Larry DeVault, Deputy Chief of Administration. “The problem is weekdays.”
“With the pace of development in Crozet and the frequency of car accidents, we struggle,” said Dillon, who joined the department in 2012. “We’re afraid something might happen and we aren’t able to respond as quickly as necessary.”
“Have no fear that we are not going to answer a call,” said Dillon. “There’s no risk of a lack of service. The system is networked and multiple stations respond to calls, depending on call type.”
“We’re trying to be proactive, not reactive” explained Gentry. “We’re being realistic about what we need to protect the community.”
One complicating manpower factor for the volunteer stations is a County policy that prevents the County’s paid firefighters from volunteering with their local station during their off-duty hours. Former County Attorney Larry Davis made that interpretation of state law, but Gentry noted that Louisa and Augusta Counties both allow paid staff to also volunteer.
Some volunteers find they like the job and choose to pursue it as a career, Dillon said. Once they have completed training and are hired by the County, the station loses them. Dillon said that changing this policy alone might allow Crozet to restore its manpower to sufficient levels.
Few new residents to Crozet have volunteered for the department. Most of those serving are longstanding volunteers.
County fire chief Dan Eggleston has acknowledged that the County has received the request from Crozet, but there is no official response yet.