From humble origins, GVFR evolved into top-flight service

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on May 16, 2018 - 11:45 AM

Photo: A small number of members of the Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Inc., stand in front of Station #1 on Main Street where a special 50-year celebration of its EMS service will be held on Sunday. The department now has over 150 members. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

A small number of members of the Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad, Inc., stand in front of Station #1 on Main Street where a special 50-year celebration of its EMS service will be held on Sunday. The department now has over 150 members. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

When Gordon Townsend joined the newly formed Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Squad in the spring 1969, sheriff’s office dispatchers used landline phones to contact volunteers to respond to calls.

“They had just added the squad when I joined,” Townsend said, reflecting on his 50 years of service with the department. “Before that, funeral homes had sirens under the hood and a light they could remove” to transport patients to the nearest hospital at the time, which was Riverside Hospital (Regional Medical Center) in Newport News.

At that time, Townsend said a lot of residents saw doctors in Richmond. “From the tail end of Naxera to Medical College of Virginia was an hour-and-a-half at best,” he said. “Patients get a way better positive outcome now than they did in those days.”

Rather than going to the emergency room as is the status quo these days, in the 1960s and ’70s, many patients were transported to Dr. Raymond Brown’s office in Gloucester Court House. “He’d pat you on the back, put a bandage on your arm, give you two aspirin and call to check on you in the morning,” Townsend said. “Now, patients are taken to the ER for a full workup.”

There weren’t nearly as many volunteers during the early days, he added. At about 35 members, he said there were several who had the ability to respond to numerous calls. Now, the department has over 150 members.

Training was different as well in those early days. “They were just starting CPR,” he said. “The ALS (Advanced Life Support) Class was way off in the future,” Townsend said.

Of his years with the department, he said, “It’s been good and bad.” Townsend said he’s been able to help a lot of people and reach in and do for them at times they have needed it. The other side of the coin, he said, is when he has had to interject himself into someone’s life during what could be the worst day of their lives.

On a more humorous note, Townsend said one of the calls that has stuck with him over the years was when he and another longtime member Andy James responded to a minor accident involving two women.

“It wasn’t all that bad an accident,” Townsend said. “But the ladies had just been to the grocery store and were on their way home to Ware Neck. They agreed to let us take them to Dr. Brown’s but they would not go without their groceries they had just purchased. So we loaded them and all their groceries in the ambulance and headed up to Dr. Brown’s.”