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February 8, 2018

Q&A: Helping people make their “worst day” better

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Chief Jason Golden oversees a $563,332 annual budget and 129 members, including 94 who run calls, at the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co.
I have to answer for everything great we do. And, gosh forbid, if we make a mistake I have to answer for that, too.
Jason Golden
• Age: 35

• Home: Warrenton

• Work: IT specialist, U.S. Justice Department, 2009-present; network analyst, Fauquier County, 2002-08.

• Volunteerism: Joined Warrenton's Company 1 in 1998; elected chief, 2016; previously served as assistant chief, captain and lieutenant.

• Family: Wife Ruth; children, Hannah, 10; Luke, 5.

• Education: Fauquier High School, 2001.

• Hobbies: Playing video games, traveling to warm places with family.

By The Numbers

$1.2 million
Cost of Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co.’s 100-foot “tower” truck, which will arrive at the station in March.

Company’s fiscal 2018 budget.

Calls volunteers and career firefighters and medics stationed at the fire company building and old rescue squad building, both on West Shirley Avenue, responded to last year.

Year in which the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co. and Warrenton Volunteer Rescue Co. merged.

Age of company’s oldest member — The Rev. J. Richard “Dick” Winter.

Company members who run calls, including 67 men and 27 women.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
On a lark, the Fauquier High student accepted an offer to do a ride-along with the Warrenton Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Jason Golden climbed into the ambulance at age 17.

While he had no idea what to expect of the 1998 experience, it proved exciting and, more importantly, gave him a greater sense of purpose.

The work allows volunteers to help make a person’s potentially “worst day” better, says Mr. Golden, the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co.’s 35-year-old chief.

“This is a job where you make a meaningful impact.”

Mr. Golden steadily scaled the Company 1 leadership ladder, attaining the ranks of lieutenant and captain within his first dozen years with the organization.

In 2011, volunteers elected him assistant chief, a post he held for five years. In 2016, they elected him chief to a two year-term.

As chief, Mr. Golden oversees a $563,332 annual budget and 129 members, including 94 who run calls.

The company’s volunteers and career fire/rescue workers stationed at the fire house and the former rescue building — across from each other on West Shirley Avenue — last year handled 4,599 calls.

For various reasons — “changing society” and time-consuming training requirements, for example — recruiting volunteers remains one of the countywide system’s biggest challenges, says Chief Golden, an IT specialist with the U.S. Justice Department in Washington.

But he believes education and hands-on opportunities can change that.

Exposing young people to public safety opportunities — particularly through the county’s high schools — will help boost Fauquier’s volunteer and professional fire/rescue ranks, Chief Golden says.

He speaks from personal experience.

At Fauquier High, Mr. Golden took fire science classes — still available — and joined the school’s student-staffed “Green Team.”

“We were kind of like the first pre-emptive responders,” he says of the group. “We would show up and stabilize an illness or if somebody broke a leg and make sure they were at a basic level of care until the ambulance showed up.”

If not for that, the fire science classes and the ride-along 20 years ago, Mr. Golden doubts he would have become a volunteer.

“I think that was life-changing for me. I don’t think, on my own accord, I would have done this.”

> Video at bottom of story

A married commuter with two young children, Chief Golden volunteers just about every weekend, typically from about 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Sunday.

Depending on the time of the year, he also spends two to six hours a week at town and county government meetings.

What does his wife Ruth think about his time away from family on weekends and week nights?

A company member who no longer runs calls, Mrs. Golden understands the importance of volunteering and supports him, the chief says.

“It’s family first, then the fire company,” says Chief Golden, careful to strike a balance. “I’m super fortunate. Like a lot of the people we have here, we come from families that are involved or have relatives that are in public safety. So it’s a known quantity.”

• How did you get started as a volunteer?
I had a friend in high school. It was like, “Hey, man, you should come do a ride-along. I run at the (Warrenton) rescue squad.” OK, sounds cool. Great. Did one shift. That’s all it took. Hooked.

• Why do you volunteer?
I love it. There are only a few other callings that are like this — serving your county, serving your community.

This is a job where you make a meaningful impact. People call you on their worst day. And you show up to do everything you can to make that not such a worst day. We can’t fix everything. But we can sure make it better, or at least stop the problem from being worse.

• What do you like best about the job?
Same thing. Number one is the impact. We get to turn that bad day into a better day.

Outside of that, it is fun. There’s a little bit of an adrenalin rush. I’ve been doing it for so many years now, that’s faded.

• What do you least like about the job?
The outcomes we can’t change — when we run a call and we can’t make that impact change, when we can’t make that situation better or right. That’s probably the toughest part of the job.

• Most dangerous call you’ve made?
I don’t think I have one that stands out. You start running so many calls, they start to fade.

I’m more fearful of us on the highway than I am of us running into a burning building, because at least in a burning building the only variables we have to worry about are the fire, the progression of the fire, what it’s done to the building and the people. Are there victims? And our people.

When you go on the highway, you’re at the mercy of all those drivers. We have a lot of really good people that see us, pull over and get all the way off the road; we have others that are oblivious.

• How do you deal with the trauma related to calls involving injuries or death of people you’re trying to help?
There’s separation. Do I feel badly that we weren’t able to affect that save? Sure. It really comes down to variables in that situation. When the variables in the situation say there wasn’t anything we could do and everything we did was all we could do, I have comfort with that.

• Most common calls?
EMS calls. I would say that’s the majority of our responses — anything from illnesses to diabetic emergencies, unconscious persons.

• Drug overdoses?
We do run drug overdoses. They don’t always get dispatched as that, because it depends on that initial information we get. Often it’s an unconscious person, which can lead into an overdose, unless the call is very specific.

• What’s the biggest hurdle for recruiting volunteers?
The biggest I’ve seen over the years is some people don’t realize the level of commitment. It isn’t just sign up and immediately doing it. There’s hundreds of hours of certification involved.

• What qualities make a successful volunteer?
The drive to want to do it, is what makes or breaks a volunteer; professionalism; dedication, empathy, being compassionate.

• What does a chief do?
Everything. I play mom and dad. At the end of the day, the fire chief is responsible for every aspect — operationally, administratively. It’s kind of shared. I’m considered the CEO. But we also have a president (Jim Farkus).

I have to answer for everything great we do. And, gosh forbid, if we make a mistake I have to answer for that, too. We’ve been very lucky that we don’t make mistakes. If we do, they’re very nominal and minor. We’re not perfect by any means; we’re all human.

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