After being suspended two years because of the Covid pandemic, the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department’s annual awards dinner resumed at King Family Vineyard January 28 and Crozet’s finest recognized battalion chief Doug Gernert as the Firefighter of the Year.
Chief Gary Dillon served as emcee for the occasion, and after the normal formalities—the presentation of the colors and an opening prayer offered by chief emeritus Preston Gentry—he got down to praising the food, especially the bacon-wrapped dates. The prime rib and salmon dinner was catered by The Local. East Rivanna firefighters covered the Crozet station for the awards night.
CVFD President Rodney Rich acknowledged that professional staff are new at Station 5, as Albemarle County identifies the Crozet firehouse, since the last awards dinner and their introduction to cope with the station’s increasing call demand has been “a good fit.”
“We have a commitment to serve our community,” Rich explained. “It’s our duty to make sure our citizens are served properly.” In fact, they mattered personally to Rich because one of the new career firefighters was the first to detect that Rich was experiencing a heart attack at the station. “Our whole community deserves that prompt response,” said Rich gratefully. “We [the volunteers and the career staff] make a great team.”
Dillon asked for a moment of silence to remember deceased stalwarts of the station and asked for recognition of their widows who were present. Austin Critzer, who joined in 1948, was present representing the generation of volunteers that Dillon was memorializing. Critzer’s dad was one the station’s original members, joining in 1928. The CVFD chose Critzer as the Parade Marshal in last year’s Fourth of July parade. Critzer was one of the five men who went to snowy Michigan in 1968 to drive a new firetruck home, a story that is legendary in the firehouse now.
Gernert, yet unaware of what was ahead for him, honored Zach Simpson for his “tireless commitment” to the job. “He always seems to be out on a call,” Gernert said. Simpson, also an EMT, has been hired by the Waynesboro Fire Department. He leaves Crozet this month and received a special parting award.
Gernert also called Preston Gentry forward for recognition. “He makes our community smile,” Gernert said, explaining that for 37 years Gentry has served as a stand-in for Santa Claus in Crozet’s annual Christmas parade. Gentry told a couple of tales about his years of having Crozet kids sit on his knee and tell him their wishes. He’s proven to them many times that Santa, the spirit of giving, is real.
The Team Award went to Elise Lindquist and Thomas Echols for their success in recruiting new volunteers. The CVFD has six new members in the last year and three are now in Firefighter One training. “We are volunteers and we need volunteers,” Gernert said. Lindquist and Echols had also arranged all the details of the awards dinner.
The Duty Crew of the Year Award went to the Tuesday night crew. Matt Robb and Butch Snead accepted on behalf of the crew.
Rookie of the Year went to Dustin Wood. Wood was on 241 calls in 2022 and gave 311 hours to the station.
Dillon presented a Community Service Award to Travis Koshko, meteorologist for television station CBS 19. Dangerous thunderstorms were in the forecast for the Fourth of July parade July 2 and at 10 a.m. Dillon was on the spot to make a call on whether to cancel the parade for safety reasons. The CVFD was also called to three structure fires that day, so the pressure was piling on. Frantic exchanges all morning between Dillon and Koshko (it was a Saturday and Koshko was off, but took Dillon’s call) finally reassured Dillon that the parade was going to enjoy clear late afternoon skies as the storm glanced by Crozet and went south into the Batesville area. Dillon’s gratitude to Koshko was palpable. “If I had had to cancel the parade, I would have had to put my house up for sale and clear out of town,” Dillon said. “Travis predicted a ‘perfect evening’. He saved the parade.”
In his introduction to the Firefighter of the Year Award, Dillon said praised Gernert for superb and diligent communication skills. “He communicates with me every day about how to improve the department. He is so involved in our staffing and making sure we are covered. That is a leader.” Dillon said he was aware that Gernert would prefer that the award not go to an officer, but Dillon insisted Gernert was the one who deserved it. “You earned it,” he said emphatically as he presented the award.
Fifty Years of Service awards went to Austin W. Critzer, Jr. and Butch Snead, who both joined the CVFD in 1970. The award is a plaque with a cutout of the map of Virginia with a polished silver hatchet mounted on it and a personalized inscription. Dillon said that Snead had advice for how to succeed. “Serve your country, take care of your family, and thank the Lord that you can,” Dillon said. “Pay attention to that advice,” he urged.
The extended Critzer family was at a table near the front when the award was announced and the crowd of 100 on hand for the night spontaneously rose and gave them a standing ovation.
Robb was also given Cool Under Pressure Award. Rodney Rich related that when he was having his heart attack, he asked Robb not to let his wife Judy know it was happening. “So, what Matt said to her,” Rich recalled, “was, ‘It’s not like he’s having a heart attack.’” The award was a jar of apple butter, an in-house allusion to a promise Robb had once made. The volunteers got a kick out of it and Robb took the award in good humor.
In other business, Ethan Powell was promoted to lieutenant and Kyle Tatton was promoted to captain. Lifetime membership was awarded to Rodney Rich II. Lifetime membership recognizes 15 years of active service in the department.