Castleton Community Volunteer Fire Company calls for help
In times of need, residents of Rappahannock call on the county’s volunteer fire and emergency medical teams for help. But this week, it’s the Castleton Community Volunteer Fire Company that’s calling Rappahannock citizens for help.
“The Castleton Community Volunteer Fire Company finds itself in a very difficult situation,” its members wrote in a letter to the community. “Our number of volunteers has drastically dropped over the last few years. We are operating with a skeleton staff and crew.”
The company’s letter said that it is reaching “a critical point,” and without additional volunteers it may have no other option but to close its doors.
“We’re just not getting the membership at all,” said Bryan Wharton, president of Company 5. “Our youngest member is 30 and our average age is between 45 and 55.”
If Company 5 were to close, the letter said, residents could face longer wait times for fire response and emergency medical services. The closure could also potentially raise homeowners insurance costs “due to a lack of a nearby station within 5 miles.”
Fire companies countywide have been challenged to recruit volunteers for some time. The pandemic only made things worse. A year ago when the crisis began, Chester Gap’s Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company lost more than half of its trained emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and had to supplement its volunteer corps with paid staff.
Castleton didn’t lose volunteers due to the pandemic, but they still don’t have enough help. To encourage more Rappahannock citizens to join volunteer companies, Amissville Fire Chief J.B. Carter organized a free EMT class that started in early March. But Company 5 Fire Chief Johnny Howington said none of the students currently enrolled in the class live in Castleton.
“It’s a lot of time you have to put in to even get to training,” Howington said. “A lot of people are working and they don’t have time to even do it.”
Howington himself has a full-time job with the Virginia Department of Transportation and manages to run 90 percent of Castleton’s sporadic emergency calls when he isn’t working. Wharton and Howington said that sometimes they’ll go weeks without receiving a single call and at other times they’ll have back-to-back emergencies.
The unpredictable call volume makes it difficult to justify hiring paid staff. “The way I see it, we don’t get enough calls to pay somebody to sit around all day for nothing,” he said. Still, he supports the local government’s decision to hire an advanced life support medic and staff a chase buggy that can be dispatched from a central location to emergencies throughout the county.
“I think every station in Rappahannock could probably use help in some fashion,” Wharton said. “Get out and help if you can. Whether you want to become a firefighter, you want to become EMS or you just want to help stations — come and volunteer your time, help fundraising. Any company. We can use all the help we can get.”
Interested volunteers ages 14 and up are encouraged to reach out to their nearest companies.