Why Crozet: Your Neighbors Might Need Help

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Thomas Echols at the fire house. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

You don’t have to be a power lifter or a fire scientist to join the ranks at the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department. “We have people from all walks of life here,” said Thomas Echols, a volunteer firefighter who also serves as the coordinator of recruitment and retention.

Echols likes learning about the volunteers he hangs out with on his regular shift Thursdays. “All of us tend to associate mostly with people like ourselves,” he said. His evening shift gives him a chance to get to know people from wildly different backgrounds as well as different professions. Each of them potentially offers a different skill during a fire call. Echols is an accountant in his day job, and he said there are occasions when his own professional training might come in handy. “Those firefighters manning the pumps? They have to do complicated mathematical adjustments, hydraulics and physics, in their heads, on the fly.” Others are experts in laying out hoses, for example, or may have experience with climbing and ropes, a good skill for retrieving those who are injured or lost in the mountains. A truck driver might be an expert at maneuvering huge trucks through traffic, a construction worker at climbing ladders and assessing the safety of a burning structure. 

Ethan Powell and Thomas Echols don equipment during a drill at CVFD. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Strength is always a factor, of course: “We all learn how to climb down a ladder carrying a heavy weight,” he said. And the sheer weight of the hoses once they’re filled is often a surprise to young volunteers. That’s why it’s so important to place them strategically before they swell with water.

The recent Crozet Volunteer Fire Department Trainee Class from top, left to right, Andy McDaniels, Doug Gernet, Dave Bruton, Cole Albee, Emily Sposato, Kevin Winstead, Derek Breeden, Charles Levine. Submitted photo.

Echols came to Crozet to be near his parents, who retired to Charlottesville. “I’m one of the many Northern Virginians to come here,” he said. “I know that a lot of long-time residents don’t love this trend.” He wanted to set an example for other newcomers by serving his new community. Because his work in finance at U.Va. is always at a desk and behind the scenes, Echols sought out a volunteer project that would connect him with his Crozet neighbors, and help them in a tangible way. 

His choice was a good one for someone seeking hands-on, direct experience in alleviating suffering, he said. “We’re with people at the very worst times in their lives.” There’s an accident, or their car or house is on fire.” He finds fulfillment in assisting in the less dramatic incidents as well: “Once I was with a crew helping a family with their smoke alarms and there was a little girl about the age of my daughter. It made me happy that we worked out the problems and the family could feel safe.”

A firefighter saws through metal to vent a fire. Submitted photo.

As Crozet grows, the need for more volunteers does, too. Last August there were 90 calls, Echols said. In September there were 83, a mix of structure, brush and vehicle fires, medical calls, suspicious smoke, and collisions. Recruitment is down because the volunteer pipeline––students 16 and older––has been slow with the pandemic. Although Crozet is growing, potential volunteers can still start the process simply and easily, in a small-town, low-key kind of way. “If you think you might be interested, come by the firehouse any evening and talk,” Echols said. “We’ll always be glad to see you.”

Is there something you particularly love about living in Crozet? Email Theresa Curry: [email protected]

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