The Western Albemarle Rescue Squad held its first awards banquet since 2019 at King Family Vineyards February 4, recognizing especially Greg Paquin, a 24-year stalwart of the volunteer service, who is moving to northern Virginia.
WARS currently has 113 members and answered 2,137 calls in 2022. Since the pandemic began, the squad has responded to 5,983 calls for urgent medical help. The dinner and dancing evening, the squad’s the social highlight of the year, drew 160. The Catering Outfit from Charlottesville provided a beef and salmon dinner and Derek Tobler served as DJ.
WARS President Justin Pickral offered a blessing of a non-religious character to start the evening and introduced the evening’s guests, among them six WARS board members as well as county fire/rescue officials and White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek.
The squad’s traditional slide show of life at the squad house was put together by Anna Wasserman and went a half hour, amounting to more than 500 images. Covid impacts featured largely, with volunteers garbed in protective gear, seemingly disguised. There were haircuts happening, birthday cakes, parade rides, nappers in uncomfortable positions, training sessions, team cooking, wearing carved pumpkins as helmets, house cleaning, truck washing, training on Beaver Creek, some fond teasing of Chief Kostis Alibertis, and some sitting out on the driveway in front of open bays on summer evenings. Nearly every scene brought an approving reaction from the crowd. In all, it seemed like the most fun and the best rewards to be had in Crozet come from belonging to the squad.
The President’s Award, conferred by Pickral, went to Greg Paquin (for 2020), David Booth (for 2021) and Zack Armstrong (for 2022). Armstrong was complimented for being “always around.”
Alibertis presented Chief’s Awards to Wasserman, Valerie Quick and Emma Freeauf.
The Frances Henry Award, which recognizes the volunteer who went on the most calls, went to Wasserman (for 2020), Teryn Ratcliffe (for 2021) and Peyton Rieger (for 2022). Alibertis said that at the turn of the century, Henry, who lived on Railroad Avenue near the squad house, ran calls seven days a week, on the order of 700 per year and roughly half of all calls run. At the time the squad had only 25 or 30 members. Alibertis recalled that Henry, in her 70s at the time, preferred to run calls with a gun handy.
Pickral presented the two awards that are voted on by the membership. Member of the Year for 2022 went to Peyton Rieger and Rookie of the Year for 2022 was Laurel Chruma.
Outstanding Contribution Awards (a new category that has not been given before) went to Greg Paquin; Marian Lawson, who has handled financial affairs for the squad for 15 years; and Tom Oakley, who retired from the board after 27 years.
Appreciation Awards, meant to recognize “unseen heroes,” were given to Grace Foster, Brittany Schoeb, Lucian Mirra and Melanie Welcher (who organized the banquet).
Life memberships, which require at least seven years of service (“Quite an achievement,” acknowledged Alibertis) were conferred on Leanne Knox, Raven Curtis, Jose Larraburu, Stephanie Weaver, Seth Wood and Anthony Judkins.
The awards culminated with a plaque honoring Alibertis that featured a 2020 Daily Progress article on him. Pickral called him the “the heart of the agency.” Alibertis has been WARS’s chief for 27 years.
Accepting the plaque, Alibertis said, “Thanks to everybody. We had a couple of years [coping under Covid rules]. We’ve added 24 new members in the last two years. Now it’s two or three a month. It’s because you guys make WARS such a great place to be. Thanks for doing it well.”
If you’ve ever had to call the squad to your house, you know how well-deserved its awards are.