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Still strong: Culpeper volunteer fire & rescue association adds 83 members in '20
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Still strong: Culpeper volunteer fire & rescue association adds 83 members in '20

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A strong and ever-present fiber in the fabric of the community, the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association is 590 members strong, by last count, and growing, with 83 new members joining forces in 2020 alone.

“Our members are still strong while a lot of communities around us are falling by the wayside with volunteers … Culpeper has always supported volunteers, fire and EMS,” said longtime volunteer firefighter Charles “Junior” Perryman, president of the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association, during last week’s State of the Union virtual program hosted by the Culpeper Chamber of Commerce.

“All of us are doing this without pay. The biggest thing we may receive is a free t-shirt, which we wear proudly, showing our loyalty to our departments and our communities and volunteering. We have strong leadership in all our departments. It helps me sleep at night to know everything is running smoothly.”

The association represents members from eight volunteer companies – each with their own specialty – around Culpeper that cover all 383 square miles of the county and beyond.

“We are a diverse group, Culpeper is a diverse community and our rosters show that, which is good,” Perryman said.

Association membership is comprised of 346 men and 244 women ranging in age from junior teen members to retirees 65 and better.

In fact, the most local fire & rescue volunteers (149) are in that last mature category followed by those who are youngest – 120 volunteers in their 20s, according to data charts shared by Perryman, deputy chief at Culpeper County VFD Co. 1 in town.

Of the 590 total volunteers, 395 run active calls while 195 serve in vital support duties like administrative and fundraising, which Perryman said takes a tremendous amount of time.

“It is a young man, young woman’s game – it’s very, very hard work,” he said.

New memberships are up in the volunteer association, Perryman was grateful to report, while the group also depends on its career firefighters and rescue workers who work in places like Prince William and Fairfax, but live in Culpeper and give their skills back here in the volunteer stations.

Of total membership in CCVRA, 178 volunteers have 20 or more years of service.

The local volunteers are moms and dads, sisters and uncles working in business, IT, law, healthcare and construction. They are machinists and retired government, plumbers and electricians, Perryman said.

The Association responded to 7,107 calls for service in 2020, which was down slightly last year due to COVID lockdowns, Perryman said, adding, “It’s still a lot for a small, sleepy town.”

It would cost the county $22 million to provide salary and benefits to paid staff that Culpeper County fire and rescue volunteers give for free, Perryman said. It’s an expensive proposition, he added, to keep eight station houses up to par and purchase expensive equipment for fighting fires and saving lives. Costs for equipment start at $40,000 to $1.25 million for an aerial ladder truck.

The association owns millions of dollars in fire and EMS equipment, items purchased with independent fundraising. As Perryman has previously reported, the year 2020 was the year of no fundraising as bingo halls that used to attract 100-200 players abruptly closed, fire hall dinners went dark and summer fairs silenced in a year of pandemic, resulting in an estimated $800,000 loss in revenue locally.

“All of this came to a screeching halt and we said we needed to stop and look what we were doing is no longer working, need to be more innovative, transform a bit, the recruitment and retention committee stepped up,” Perryman said of subsequent efforts to beef up the association’s online presence https://ccvfra.org/ and on social media.

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PSAs went out on local radio and a Main Street banner is in the works, he said. Last year’s Valor Banquet was a success as were drive-thru chicken and spaghetti dinners, an online raffle and shopping, trail ride and receiving a couple of million in grant funding, including through the CARES Act. Drive-in movie night, like held at Salem VFD, is coming back this summer, Perryman said.

The county collects a local tax to cover operational costs for the volunteer stations and will double its contribution for capital needs in the coming fiscal year while the association anticipates some $30 million in future building maintenance needs.

“Our buildings are ok for now, but will certainly need some upgrades in the coming years,” Perryman said.

Culpeper volunteers receive the same training as career staff, he said of the substantial commitment: 160 hours for firefighter I, another 57 hours for firefighter 2, 154 hours for EMT and 73 more for EMT paramedic.

Culpeper has numerous volunteer EMTS who are paramedics, he said, of the two-year commitment, “Hats off to them, the community relies on them we are very fortunate to have a number on our volunteer service.”

The association’s primary focus, Perryman said, is a cooperative relationship across all eight companies.

“We are all individual companies, but when the alarm sounds we have to come together and work together,” Perryman said. “We have to have standards we go by, procedures that we follow so we’re all on the same page … We can’t do it by ourselves as one individual company we rely on each other on a lot of the major incidents.”

And each station has its own specialty, he said.

Co. 1 in town of Culpeper has an aerial device that is able to reach out for water rescue or fires or high elevations up to about 100 feet. Brandy Station has a gator which supports getting hunters out of the woods if they’ve been injured or for use during brush fires.

Richardsville Co. 6 is on the Rappahannock River, have a boat and are often called upon, especially during the pretty weather, Perryman said. Brandy Station has an ice water rescue team in conjunction with Co. 6.

Salem has a canteen, which is really appreciated when volunteers are out eight, ten hours on an incident or spending an entire day training, Perryman said, “We do have the facility to provide some refreshments and drinks and coffee. “

Little Fork Co. 9 does large animal rescue, the only all-volunteer team in Virginia, also called on several times a month to assist with horses and cattle and other animals. Rapidan has a light air unit for at nighttime when extra light is needed on scene, “We call upon them and of course when we are breathing lots of bottled air on an incident they have a cascade system which is able to refill our air bottles on the scene,” Perryman said.

Co. 11 Culpeper Volunteer Rescue Squad has no specialty piece, he added, however the number of calls that they run from the North Main Street station is extraordinary, “They’re really taxed they do a tremendous job answering EMS calls,” he said.

Finally, Reva has a mass casualty trailer … “we hope we don’t have to use often, it has backboards in case of an overturned bus or other horrible type situations, active shooter.”

It’s no accident that each company has its own important specialized area of assistance that all work together cooperatively. The association is all about collaboration and recruitment.

Perryman mentioned the recent fire academy class that graduated 15 new volunteers following intensive training that included a day spent working a structural burn and temperatures indoors reaching 1,200 degrees.

“They’re all state certified as firefighter 2,” the association president said, obviously proudly. “One of the best classes I have seen come out of this program.”

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