It’s a tough job, requiring relative youth, months of training, physical strength and dogged commitment. Becoming a firefighter is not possible for everyone, said Wyn Elder. “Not everyone who wants to help the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department has both the time and the qualifications. There’s a shortage of volunteers, not just here, but all over the country.”
Elder, who moved to Crozet three years ago, was looking for a way to contribute to his new community. He’s a retired Air Force commander and pilot who quickly saw the dilemma. “It’s not a good use of resources to have the highly trained firefighters doing administrative and other tasks,” he said. “What if there was a program to recruit and train volunteers for duties other than firefighting?” The Fire Department has always welcomed volunteers unable to fight fires, but there was no formal program for finding people with the specific skills, recruiting them, training them, scheduling them and overseeing their work.
That all changed when Elder became the first official Crozet Volunteer Fire Department associate member. He’s charged with leading the new program and making it easy and practical for the community to help in whatever ways they can. “If administering a program takes more time from the functional firefighters rather than reducing their workload, then it isn’t working,” he said.
He’s also aware that volunteers expect certain things: clearly defined tasks, an easy way to apply, and appropriate communication. “If the requirements are vague, or if it’s hard to become a volunteer, people lose interest,” he said. He’s working to make the process as streamlined as possible, with current needs publicized by way of social and print media.
Elder gave a few examples of some potential volunteer roles. “The firefighters shouldn’t be burdened with keeping up the web site,” he said. “There are probably 35 people just in my neighborhood who could do a great job of that.” Other needs: recruiting volunteers, fundraising, coordinating presentations at schools, planning and coordinating special events. He envisions some standing committees or groups of volunteers who could carry out those jobs, thus leaving the functional fire fighters to concentrate on their training and their work in the community.
Crozet Fire Chief Gary Dillon said this more formal way of recruiting and assigning volunteers should go a long way to relieve the firefighters. The men used an example of a specific volunteer role: someone who loves shopping could make a trip to a big box store for supplies, an undemanding but time-consuming expedition that doesn’t require fire-fighting skills or training. “I think it’s a great idea,” Dillon said.
Elder came to Charlottesville as a student at UVa. “Like many former students, I had dreams of returning to the area,” he said. “When our children left, we looked around in Crozet and loved it.” He hasn’t been disappointed in his choice. “My experience with the people here is that they’re very giving and generous. “I’ve also found there’s a wealth of talent here, talent that could be used for the public good.”