The 114-year-old Crozet Volunteer Fire Department held its annual awards dinner at King Family Vineyard in Crozet January 27 and all-around super volunteer Elise Lindquist took home the Chief’s Award, the top honor the department confers.
CVFD Chaplain Walt Davis opened the occasion with a prayer thanking the volunteers for “running toward catastrophe” and for being willing “to put their lives on the line for their neighbors.”
In a hint at things to come, CVFD Chief Gary Dillon thanked Lindquist for organizing the event and next recognized the evening’s special guests, among them four widows of deceased members, as well as Austin Critzer, who has been serving in the department since 1948. Also on hand were North Garden Fire Chief George Stevens and his wife, White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek and her husband Leo, and Deputy County Fire Rescue Chief Heather Childress, who represented the county on behalf of Chief Dan Eggleston, a Crozet resident, who could not attend. Channel 19 weatherman Travis Koshko was back for a second year as a guest, in gratitude for his minute-to-minute guidance to Chief Dillon on parade day when the timing and direction of thunderstorms threaten the parade. Those conditions threatened the parade in both 2022 and 2023. Dillon relied on Koshko to help make the cancellation yes-or-no call, his predictions proved correct and the parades went on.
Dillon announced that the department responded to 917 calls for service in 2023 and that volunteers had contributed 13,085 hours on duty crews. He said the past year included valuable training on dealing with electric vehicle fires and extracting victims from car crashes, plus a renewed emphasis on CPR training. The department also began a health and wellness program for volunteers, which included skin cancer screenings that revealed several volunteers who were unaware had pre-cancerous conditions.
Dillon said the department has also begun carrying Narcan, an opiate antidote, on calls because of the risk of exposure to fentanyl when responding to car wrecks.
The department has also added three drone aircraft with Kyle Patton in the role of “chief pilot.” Drones allow the department to find smoke sources more quickly and to investigate hazardous spills without having to get near them. In the firehouse, Dillon said the department had accomplished computing upgrades and installed better TVs.
On the recruitment front, the CVFD has started hosting quarterly events that include tours of the firehouse, an effort that has resulted in some new recruits. Other well-received outreach efforts include “Storytime with a Firefighter” at Bluebird & Co. and CVFD T-shirts, also available at Bluebird.
Dillion called firefighter Thomas Echols to the mike to describe the state of the department’s effort to build an auxiliary group. “Leadership spends a lot of time on planning and administrative tasks,” Echols explained. Auxiliaries can relieve some of that pressure by taking on specific chores. The effort is now one year old and there are now six official members of the auxiliary who help with “marketing” projects and the department’s presence on social media.
President Rodney Rich conferred the first award of the evening, the President’s Award. Rich first stopped to commend Butch Snead and Lindquist (again) for organizing the department’s twice-yearly fund-raising raffles. He then called forward Capt. David Bruton to receive the award in appreciation of his contributions as treasurer.
Dillon then took up the presenter’s role again and conferred Fire Service Support Awards on Pete Oprandy, D.B. Sandridge, Tom Loach, Wyn Elder, Ben Burress and Kathy Micucci, who each contributed special skills to department needs. Micucci, for example, was praised for her help tailoring the volunteers’ uniforms.
Fire Service Hours Awards went to five members who gave more than 600 hours to the cause, an average of 12 hours a week: A. W. Critzer (838 hours on duty), Erik Cohen (647 hours), Brett Croft (643 hours), David Bruton (713 hours) and Kevin Winstead (602 hours). Dillon noted that two-thirds of the hours Bruton served were not during his regular shift.
The Duty Crew of the Year again was the Tuesday night crew, who also won in 2022. The group put in 3,600 hours and did not miss a single shift. Dillon told the crowd that an analysis of calls showed that Sunday night is the busiest. When this fact came to light, the dedicated Tuesday crew asked to be shifted to Sundays, when they could expect to answer twice as many calls.
The Probationary Firefighter of the Year Award went to rookie Steve Kim. Dillon praised him for having a passion for the department that is inspiring to other members, for his “unwavering commitment to improvement,” for being willing to help other new members, and for seeking out opportunities to learn.
Culminating the evening, Dillon said the Chief’s Award recognized Lindquist’s success with recruiting and retention efforts, for being the first to volunteer when tasks came up, and for her deep commitment to the department. Dillon noted that Lindquist agreed to serve as quartermaster (supply officer) temporarily and did so well she essentially fell into the role permanently.
Dillon thanked the volunteers again in conclusion. “Giving up time with your families means a lot,” he said. “We do what we do because we love the community.”