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August 19, 2013

Volunteer firefighting a family affair for the Koglins

Photo/David Lyne
The Koglin family (from left): Jason, Patti, Evan, Jonathan, Kristi, Chris, Pat and Dale.
Family photo
Jonathan and Chris, at ages 8 and 5, getting with the tradition.
Photo/David Lyne
Longtime friends, Dale Koglin and Steve Ross joined the fire company as young volunteers in 1963.
Family photo
From left: Jonathan, Chris, Dale and Jason Koglin.
Dale Koglin maintains a serious collection of model trains and railroad layouts.
We’ve had many events ruined by fires — holidays, birthdays, family gatherings. When the alarm sounds, everybody just jumps up and goes.
— Pat Koglin
Meet the family
• Dale Koglin

Former chief, now a master technician, of Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co. Active member for 50 years. Retired chief of Warrenton Police Department with 29 years of service.

• Pat Koglin

Emergency medical technician with Warrenton Volunteer Rescue Squad for six years. Fire company support volunteer for 39 years, the length of her marriage to Dale.

• Jason Koglin

Warrenton volunteer firefighter for 22 years. Professional firefighter in Loudoun County.

• Patti Koglin

Married to Jason. Hair stylist with PR Partners in Warrenton. Mother of Evan, 2, and expecting second child in September.

• Chris Koglin

Warrenton volunteer firefighter for 12 years. Deputy sheriff in Rappahannock County.

• Kristi Koglin

Married to Chris. Warrenton EMT for eight years. Dispatcher with Fauquier County Sheriff's Office.

• Jonathan Koglin

Warrenton volunteer firefighter for 12 years. Works on alpaca farm near Gainesville. Single.
“The community has to be grateful to have them.”

Steve Ross says that about the family of long-time friend and fellow firefighter Dale Koglin.

Mr. Ross and Mr. Koglin have 50 years of service apiece with the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Co.

Mr. Koglin’s three sons — Jason, Jonathan and Chris — have logged a combined 46 years as volunteers with the company. Pat Koglin, Dale’s wife and mother of those three “smoke eaters,” has been an emergency medical technician for six years and has been involved with the fire company throughout her 39-year marriage. Kristi Koglin, married to Chris, has been an EMT for eight years.

Public service obviously runs in the family.

Dale Kogln served 29 years on Warrenton’s police force, including his tenure as chief from 1985 to 1999. (In 1994, he served as Warrenton’s police chief and the fire chief.)

Jason, the eldest son, works as a professional firefighter in Loudoun County. Chris, the youngest, is a sheriff’s deputy in Rappahannock County. Chris’ wife, Kristi, is a dispatcher with the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office.

Jonathan, a U.S. Army veteran, works on a llama farm near Gainesville. Patti, married to Jason, is a hair stylist with PR Partners in Warrenton. She also is busy rearing the next generation of Koglin firefighters. The couple has a 2-year-old son, Evan, and expects a second child in September.

“He already gets excited when he hears a siren,” Patti says of Evan.

A 50-year friendship

Dale Koglin joined the fire company as a junior firefighter in 1963, when the firehouse was on Main Street.

“It was something do to,” he says. “Back then, it was kinda like a boy’s club.”

Mr. Ross joined at the same time. After five decades, they remain best friends, still running calls with younger volunteers.

The two recall saving a restaurant from fire when they were “15 at the most,” too young to have driving permits.

“We were hanging around the old firehouse (at 81 Main St.), when a grease fire broke out at the Sportsman’s Grill (at 20 Main St.). We could see smoke pouring out the door,” Mr. Ross says. “But no one showed up to drive the fire truck.

“We put some fire extinguishers in the baskets on our bicycles, pedaled to the restaurant and put out the fire. Then we went back to the firehouse, got a smoke extractor and cleared the smoke out of the building.”

Mr. Koglin chuckles and adds: “Yeah, we got into a little trouble over that.”

The young firefighter met Pat Middleton of The Plains while in high school and the two became a couple for life. She soon saw her future.

The story goes like this, depending on who tells it.

Dale, a high school senior, and Pat, a freshman, went on a date to the old Warrenton Drive-In theater on Bear Wallow Road. The fire alarm sounded.

“Off we went. When we got to the firehouse, the speaker was still attached to the window,” Pat says. “We returned it the next day.”

When asked about the incident, Mr. Ross laughs and adds that he and his future wife, Joanne, were there, too. “We were in my car.”

A few days later, when the two lifelong firefighters get together, their banter goes like this:

Mr. Ross: “It was my car.”

Mr. Koglin: “No, it wasn’t. It was mine.”

Mr. Ross: “You sure about that?”

Mr. Koglin: “Yep.”

Mr. Ross: “Well, never mind. It happened.”

Witnesses to change

As Mr. Koglin and Mr. Ross moved up the ranks, each serving as chief of the volunteer force, the mission, size and location of the company would change.

“When I first started, we did not run auto accidents,” says Mr. Koglin. “We pretty much stuck to fires.”

Now the volunteers respond to structure fires, brush and forest fires, vehicle accidents, hazardous material spills, medical emergencies, technical rescues (for someone stuck in a tree, for example) and more. Last year, the company answered 4,500 calls.

The company in 1976 moved to 167 W. Shirley Ave. About a year later, the firefighters admitted their first female member. The company has about 25 female members these days. In 2005, the company absorbed the Warrenton Volunteer Rescue Squad.

In the old days, the volunteers kept three fire trucks at the Main Street station and three more “in an old garage on Lee Street, where the sheriff’s office is now,” says Mr. Koglin. The modern station houses seven firefighting vehicles and four ambulances, representing millions of dollars.

Mr. Ross, retired from a firefighting career at Dulles International Airport, is the company’s only paid member. A town employee, he oversees vehicle maintenance.

Mr. Koglin marvels at the improvements in firefighting equipment, including breathing apparatuses, computer-equipped fire and rescue vehicles, “even thermal imaging.” He notes, too, that training requirements have increased tremendously.

“When I started, we could jump on the truck with just a little training. Not anymore.”

Chief Sam Myers says an entry-level firefighter must have 160 to 180 hours of training before going on calls.

“It takes a lot. We expect a lot out of you,” Chief Myers says.

Of the 50 or so active members of the company that has 130 on its roster, about one-fourth work as professional firefighters in other jurisdictions, he notes.

“We’re fortunate that Dale and Steve are still actively engaged,” says Mr. Myers. “We often turn to our senior members for advice. They can speak from experience.

“It takes a lot of good people, dedication and training” for the fire company to succeed, says Mr. Ross. Speaking of lifetime firefighters in general, he adds: “A lot of people will say they do it to help others, but once the excitement and thrill gets in your blood, that’s it.”

It takes a strong family

The dedication required of a volunteer firefighter can put a burden on family life.

“It’s hard,” Pat Koglin says being a firefighter’s spouse. “It can be a lonely life unless you get involved.

“If you have someone who’s truly dedicated, they will want to go on every call,” she says. “Plus, they have to attend several training sessions a month.”

For almost four decades, Mrs. Koglin has supported firefighters by delivering drinks, sandwiches and snacks to incidents. She became an EMT six years ago.

“We’ve had many events ruined by fires — holidays, birthdays, family gatherings,” she says. “When the alarm sounds, everybody just jumps up and goes.”

“We’re here (at the firehouse) all the time,” says Jason, estimating he spends about 50 hours a week as a volunteer, in addition to his 40-hour workweek as a professional.

His wife, Patti, pats her pregnant tummy, chuckles and says, “Sometimes I wonder how this happened.”

A strong bond develops among the volunteers.

“You make a lot of friends who become family,” Pat Koglin says.

Heartache and rewards

All the Koglin volunteers say a fatality always represents the worst part of the fire and rescue jobs.

Dale Koglin vividly remembers a 2003 house fire on Green Road, south of Warrenton, which took the life of a 3-year-old boy.

“As soon as we got on Meetze Road, we could see black smoke rising high,” he says. “I knew right away it was bad.”

Flames engulfed the small house, where several families lived. Furniture in the overcrowded home blocked all but one exterior door. Neighbors, trying to help by smashing windows, unwittingly accelerated the fire by allowing more air into the house.

“When we got there, the heat was so intense nothing could be done,” Mr. Koglin recalls. “No one could go in. It was tragic.”

His wife says the little things often make her EMT work rewarding.

“We help a lot of people. Many people in this county live alone. Sometimes, we’re just helping someone who’s fallen and can’t get up,” she says. “We’re making a difference, knowing we can help somebody.”

All in the family

All three Koglin sons have followed in their father’s footsteps to become dedicated volunteer firefighters.

“It just happened,” Mrs. Koglin says.

“We didn’t force them,” her husband adds.

She smiles, recalling how her little boys would stand in their driveway and cry as dad left to answer an alarm. As they got older, they would hang around the firehouse with him as often as possible.

In their pre-teen years, the boys often went to the Fauquier Swim Club pool, played youth soccer and roamed the nearby fields of the old Broadview Farm, which hosted the Virginia Gold Cup Races until 1984.

“Once they got into high school, it was all about the fire company,” Mrs. Koglin says.

How did she respond when her husband and three sons simultaneously fought a fire?

“I worried, of course, but I did not lose sleep. You can’t be worried constantly by the what-ifs.”

Jason, the most seasoned firefighter among the three sons, explains his dedication by saying: “Nothing else you could do could give you more fulfillment.”

Reflecting on 50 years of volunteerism, his father says: “Once you start doing something, you get into a pattern. It’s kinda hard to explain.”

Noting that family members have sprung into emergency action, even while on vacation, Mr. Koglin adds: “The idea of not helping is kinda foreign to us.”

Model railroading provides another link among generations in the Koglin family

Dale Koglin, career police officer, 50-year volunteer firefighter, husband and father of three, somehow has managed to incorporate a lifelong hobby into his busy life.

He carries on and passes along a family passion for model railroading.

His paternal grandfather was a career conductor for the Baltimore & Ohio railroad. That inspired Mr. Koglin’s father to begin collecting Lionel and HO scale (1:87) model trains that he inherited.

The basement of Mr. Koglin’s home in Warrenton houses 350 model locomotives, 1200 cars, yards and yards of track and numerous model buildings to create rail yards and villages. Track and model villages for larger “G” scale (roughly 1:22) trains wind around meticulously landscaped plots beneath large shade trees in his back yard.

The model railroading bug has bitten eldest son Jason, a professional and volunteer firefighter, and 2-year-old grandson Evan.

“Kids, work (in Loudoun County), the (Warrenton) firehouse and trains — that’s pretty much my life,” says Jason, father of Evan.

“The first thing Evan says is ‘Train, train,’ whenever he comes over,” says grandmother Pat Koglin.

The three generations of male Koglins often spend hours together in the basement.

Dale and Pat Koglin recently traveled to Atlanta for the annual convention of the National Model Railroaders Association, making a few stops in North Carolina en route home.
“Every stop we made was train-related,” Mrs. Koglin says with a laugh.

Asked if he made any model train purchases on the trip,” Mr. Koglin grins and says, “No, but I did buy two steel HO (scale) fire trucks to build.”

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deborah j · August 19, 2013 at 10:21 am
good people .Thank you
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