Both compassion and concern are due for the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department, which is asking Albemarle County for help.
The department isn’t happy with the number of “scratched” calls on its books — a term that refers to responses that are delayed, or even not answered at all.
When the Crozet volunteers run into that kind of trouble, they rely on other county squads to take up the slack. But those departments are not situated as near to Crozet as is its own homegrown squad, and so responses from outside the area can be slower.
The problem — as for so many volunteer squads these days — is that the CVFD can’t field enough volunteers, especially during daytime hours when members are at work.
In the old days, members both lived and worked close to home and close to the fire station. Local employers understood the need for volunteers to drop everything at their jobs and respond to an emergency. Those conditions are changing, as more people work farther from home (creating longer commute times back to the fire station, defeating the goal of quick response times) and also work for non-local employers (which often don’t have the flexibility to allow workers to leave at the drop of a hat).
When residents call 911, said Chief Gary Dillon, “they expect … that a firetruck’s going to show up, and we would prefer that when they’re right down the road from us and they call 911, a Crozet firetruck shows up and not one from another station somewhere.
“While we’re glad to have [help from other stations],” he said, “the quicker response is from right here, and that just wasn’t happening.”
Any delays mean that the department is not meeting its standards of service.
Added Will Schmertzler, CVFD’s deputy chief of operations, “It’s time to come to reason and say, ‘Alright, we need a little help here.’ ”
It’s right to ask the county for help because county policies have encouraged population growth in and around Crozet. That growth in turn increases the need for fire department services.
Albemarle County’s 2019 growth management report estimated that the Crozet Development Area has about 8,370 people, The Daily Progress has reported. According to the Census Bureau, Crozet had a population of 2,820 in 2000.
Although Crozet itself is about 4 square miles, the fire department covers a territory of around 147 square miles.
At the same time, the department is looking at ways to increase volunteerism. “[T]here are other ways to recruit and retain,” said CVFD President Rodney Rich. “They’re out there. It just takes time to work on.”
In the meantime, the department didn’t want to become so significantly short-staffed that it might find itself in an emergency.
So it has asked Albemarle to supply five paid firefighters to fill out the roster.
The chief of the Albemarle County Fire Rescue Department doesn’t think it will be a problem to provide staff to Crozet — but he says it won’t be cheap, either. His department will submit a request for the additional staffing in the upcoming budget.
Crozet-area residents should be concerned that firefighters can’t reach them as quickly as might be possible if volunteers were more available — or if paid staff were immediately on hand.
At the same time, residents should feel some compassion for the squad, which is trying to provide timely services but is facing a changed set of circumstances that make that harder to do.
Good luck to the CVFD in its efforts to adjust to these changed conditions in a way that maintains its high standards.