Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department soars to new heights with aerial truck

On the last day of winter last week, Steve Corbin opened the bay doors at the Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department station on West Davis Street. As Fire Chief Kenny Mills eased the shiny new fire truck outside the bay, a crowd began to gather. And no wonder.
The $1.2 million custom-made aerial engine with a 100-foot ladder is a sight to see. It’s beauty and the behemoth rolled into one.

“It’s a 2012 model that we designed and Spartan Motors built for us,” said Corbin, CCVFD president of the tower truck which replaced a 1974 rig. “It was designed to fit into our building, but that was an issue.
“An engineering firm re-engineered the floor to hold the 37-ton truck.”
Corbin said the reach of the ladder is critical to the types of fires the CCVFD may be called to fight.
“It’s vital to have this ladder length for any building over one story,” he said. “It can pump 2,000 gallons of water a minute and the nozzles on the platform can be run remotely in case of a hazardous situation.”

Worth the wait
The truck has been a long time coming, but Corbin said it is well worth the wait.
“We applied almost two years ago,” he said. “We had to meet certain specifications (in the grant). The age of our oldest truck (1974), the size of our town, a good grant writer and a lot of luck made it possible. Lots of local businesses also sent money and we are grateful for that.
“There are hundreds of thousands of grants filed each year and there is only so much money out there. And, the amount of (federal) dollars available each year is being reduced. Getting funding is similar in odds to winning the lottery.”

Mills, who has been chief for three years after 14 years as assistant chief, said that not only are the grants scarce, but also accountability for the money is rigid.
“We are liable for all the information we present for up to five years afterward,” he said. “We can be audited at any time.”
Firefighting in the town of Culpeper is done entirely by volunteers.
“All members have a pager and a mobile device and when there is a call, they respond,” Corbin said. “Employers have been very good about letting firefighters leave when a call comes in. Employers and volunteers and families make a lot of sacrifices, not only for this fire company, but also for any volunteer company. Each firefighter has to be productive or they don’t stay. It costs too much to outfit and train them.
“There are nine departments in the county and if all of them had to be staffed with paid personnel it would cost well over $100 million.”

Mills said a lot of people moving to the area from Northern Virginia think Culpeper firefighters are paid.
“There is only one EMS member who is paid and no firefighters,” he said.
Training is a big part of the lives of the volunteers. There are numerous government and fire service mandates.
“All firefighters must be at least at level one to fight a fire,” Corbin said. “That takes about 200 hours of training. That’s all done on their time, usually at night and on weekends. To advance to firefighter 2 or 3 status takes a tremendous amount of time.
“And with all the training and maintenance of the trucks, we still have to do fund raising. That’s why we have the carnival each year and raffles. Money we earn from bingo is earmarked for truck replacement. It’s getting harder and harder to raise money, spend time with family and have a paying job. We want to make the public aware of the time commitment to do this.”

Mills said Co. 1 has to answer in seven minutes or less from the time they get the call or another company is “toned” (called out).
The state mandates that every truck be replaced after 15 to 20 years in service. CCVFD will have another rig that needs replacing in 2018 at a cost of about $600,000, Corbin said.
“Our biggest need right now is for citizens to stand behind us in the funding
Mills said that every time a storm comes through there are volunteers who sleep at the station – and there are no sleeping quarters there.
“It takes a rare breed of person to do this,” said Corbin. “It can be a pretty thankless job. Unless you’ve done this, it’s hard to understand why anyone would do it.”

Fire facts
What: 2012 Spartan Motors aerial fire truck
Where: Culpeper County Volunteer Fire Department (Co. 1)
Weight: 37 tons
Miles per gallon: 3 to 4
Ladder length: 100 feet
Firefighters on board: four to six
Cost: of truck: $1.2 million
Grantor: FFEMA through the Department of Homeland Security with 90/10 match
Cost to CCVFD: $220,000
Pumping capacity: 2,000 gallons per minute
Replaced: 1974 Mack truck
Number of firefighters on Co. 1 roster: 63 (45 are regularly active, five are female)
Minimum age: 18
Cost of turnout gear: $5,000 per year
Cost of air packs (good for 8 to 10 years): About $5,000 to $6,000 per year
Typical time for volunteers to arrive at station: 5 to 10 minutes
Number of trucks: Five, plus chief’s vehicle
Maintenance cost of trucks per year: About $25,000 to $28,000.
Calls answered in 2012: About 1,000
Donations to the CCVFD may be sent to: 151 W. Davis St.