AVFR has seen dramatic changes in last half-century

by Peter J. Teagle - Posted on May 16, 2018 - 11:36 AM

Emergency Medical Services in Gloucester entered its 50th year of operation in 2018, also marking the 18th year since Abingdon Volunteer Fire and Rescue became a joint operation.

These men and women are the latest generation of first responders in a department that has seen dramatic changes in the last half-century.

The Abingdon Fire Department has operated since 1950 and, prior to 1968, ambulance services were undertaken by funeral homes until the commonwealth decided that dedicated EMS was needed.

Abingdon Volunteer Rescue Squad was formed in 1968 and merged with the fire department at the turn of the new millennium.

In the early years of EMS, ambulances were housed in an old Studebaker dealership at the intersection of Guinea and Mark Pine roads.

EMS teams would “run through a cornfield at 2 o’clock in the morning to get to the ambulance,” explained Abingdon’s Public Information Officer Robert Parlett.

The 1970s saw the coming of a new station in Hayes. Following the closure of Hayes School, the county deeded part of a corner lot on Hayes Road for a station.

This station has since been remodeled and now boasts three new drive-thru bays, a fitness room and new sleeping quarters. It currently serves as Abingdon’s main EMS station.

By 1990, the department added a third station on Providence Road in Ordinary. The site was purchased from the Newton family and is now a fire house.

This continued expansion meant changes in the way EMS and fire departments were staffed. In the years before the merger there were many joint members of both entities. VIMS students and staff even operated two ambulances stationed on the Gloucester Point campus until the late 1990s.

By 2000, fire and rescue had worked together so frequently and for so long that a merger was the next logical step.

Today, there are still a few dozen dual members, though the new millennium also saw paid part-timers join the ranks to supplement staffing needs.

In particular, EMS staffing has been made more challenging in recent years by the requirement of two years of college for volunteer positions. While this undoubtedly creates very qualified volunteers, Parlett was of the opinion that asking a volunteer to pay for college courses for a position without pay can at times be a tough sell.