Firefighter started as volunteer

For more than a decade, Paul Richardson has staffed Winchester’s fire trucks and, on occasion, ambulances as a firefighter and EMT.

Richardson’s journey into emergency services started many years earlier as a volunteer firefighter in Bath County.

“When I was a teenager, I had a friend whose dad had volunteered for several years,” he said. “That inspired me to start volunteering. I got my EMT license at night school during my senior year of high school.”

His first run as a volunteer was a structure fire, he said.

“It was actually a house fire just up the road from my house,” he said. “Me and another guy were first to respond in our private vehicles. It was an unoccupied house.”

The differences between volunteer fire departments and fully-paid ones like Winchester and Clark County are vast.

“Logistics are a lot more plentiful here,” he said. My volunteer department, we served a city and the county. Out in the county, we don’t have (fire) hydrants.”

There is also consistent manpower with multiple firefighters working on shift at any given time, while volunteer fire departments rely on who is available to respond, he said.

Still, Richardson said he absolutely loves the work.

“I say to a lot of people, ‘I don’t see myself doing anything else,’” he said. “The crazy things we see, the crazy things we do. It’s not a job. It’s part of who I am.

“No shift is the same. One shift you could be in the station five minutes and answer calls all day. The next you could hear nothing but crickets.”

Two of  Richardson’s most memorable calls happened within the last 18 months, between an apartment fire in downtown Winchester, complete with a rescue of three people using the city’s ladder truck, in June 2017 to an industrial fire followed by a house fire in the dead of winter six months later.

“It was 15 degrees, two fires in the middle of the night,” he said. “It absolutely wore us out but when we went home, we felt really accomplished.”

While there is an adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment with some of the emergency responses, the best part of the job is the camaraderie with the other firefighters, he said.

“I’’ve heard people come in the station say that it’s summer camp for adults,” he said. “You get to know each other well enough that it’s not unheard of for guys to take fishing trips together. It’s a whole different ball park versus a factory.”

That camaraderie also brings a necessary trust in each other needed for some of the dangerous situations they face.

“(To have) that level of trust, you have to have a good friendship with each other,” he said. “It’s not a job we have to do. It’s a job we get to do.”