The Stony Point Fire Company’s new fire chief is a familiar face and trailblazer looking to interest new folks in volunteer work in Albemarle County.
Last week the Stony Point Fire Company Board announced that it had voted to promote Cara Metcalf to fire chief. Metcalf is the first woman in Albemarle County’s history to hold the position and the ninth fire chief for Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company since its inception in 1974, according to a news release.
Metcalf, who is originally from Ohio, has served as battalion chief and has been a volunteer firefighter since 2011, working with the company through various hardships, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Cara has been a highly respected, valuable member of the brigade for a decade,” said SPVFC board treasurer David Nordbrock after the vote. “We are so pleased to have her at the helm to usher in a new era for the Stony Point brigade.”
No stranger to helping others, Metcalf told the Daily Progress that she got her start doing search and rescue work on the west coast before coming to the east coast and turning her attention to volunteer services local to the Charlottesville area.
In addition to working eight hours a day as the club director at the Covenant School in Albemarle County, Metcalf said she has spent the last decade volunteering at Stony Point.
“Volunteering has allowed me to see all of the inner workings of the station through the previous chiefs, and how the county volunteer stations work together,” she said. “Hopefully, it sets me up for a great run as the chief and getting our stations back on track after all the COVID stuff and the craziness of the world.”
Among the immediate goals is attracting new volunteers, Metcalf said, which was difficult even before the COVID-19 pandemic due to the rural location of the station.
To address this issue, Metcalf said she’s looking to reach out to new people in the community as well as changing the time requirements for volunteers.
Traditionally a volunteer is required to work 100 hours a month, which can be difficult to meet while striking a healthy work/life balance, she said. With the creation of roles for volunteers dubbed “associate members” who work 24 to 32 hours a month, Metcalf said she hopes to attract a wide range of people.
These associate members, if they live in the area, will even be able to partially work from home by being on call and responding via a pager, she said.
Stony Point is also looking to expand its junior member program, which Metcalf said is open to 16- to 18-year-olds who, with the permission of their parents, can work nights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. so long as they maintain an at least a B average in school.
While daytime fire-rescue staff typically works at stations in the county on Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Metcalf said volunteers typically work from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on weeknights in addition to working weekends and holidays as well.
Further compounding the issue was county’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which reallocated weekday, daytime fire-rescue staff from Stony Point Volunteer Fire Company and East Rivanna Volunteer Fire Company to the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department and Pantops Public Safety Station to meet system-wide response time standards and call volume.
According to Metcalf, Stony Point ended up getting an ambulance for the day crew and secured two-to-three person staffing during the day most of the week. This is thanks to a grant the county received last year, Metcalf said.
“We have been informed recently that there has been another grant gifted to the county and so we are hopeful our community will continue to have the coverage needed,” she said. “The Stony Point community really pulled together to help us out in early spring 2020 to keep our day crew staffing. We are grateful for all the support and the community standing behind us!”
However, even with the paid day workers remaining at the station, volunteers still staff the Stony Point station on nights, weekends and holidays, she said.
During her years of service Metcalf said she has learned that there are a lot of people interested in this type of volunteer work but stop short of doing it because of anxieties and fears. However, when faced with a true emergency and someone in need of help something changes in volunteers, she said, and their minds and it can be almost therapeutic.
“It really puts your life into perspective on what is important and what you should really obsess about in your life,” she said. “It helps balance things out by realizing that by finding the confidence to help others you can also find confidence in who you are and what you want to do with your life.”