A Firefighter Forever
by Lynnette EsseAll Chief Doug Monaco has ever wanted to do is be a firefighter. While working as a career firefighter for Prince William County in 1994, Doug heard about a need for a fire company in Jeffersonton. The response times from Amissville, Culpeper, Brandy Station, and Warrenton were too long and something needed to be done about it.
A group of 60 people, including Doug and his son, Lee, began meeting at the Jeffersonton Community Center to develop a plan. This small group of Charter Members began a fundraising campaign. One of the members, EMT Dave Lowry, leased them a four-acre parcel of land along Rixeyville Road for one dollar a month, eventually donating it to the fire company. They received an old ambulance from the Warrenton Rescue Squad and built a 4-bay garage, with plans to add on later. Since then they have added much more equipment, most of it used and being replaced by long-established departments, available at “fire sale” prices.
Chief Monaco, the only full-time volunteer, and his team of 60 other volunteers respond to over 550 calls each year. He describes his work schedule as “24/7,” way more than a standard 40-hour work week, with no compensation whatsoever. After a fulfilling 33-year career, why isn’t the Chief sitting on a beach somewhere with his feet propped up or spending his days on a golf course? He said, “I am trying to make things better for people in my little part of the world!”
You might say that Doug “has it in his blood.” As the son of a volunteer firefighter, he listened to the scanner, which was always on in their home, since he was eight years old. In 1972, at the age of 16, Doug became a junior member of the Centreville Volunteer Fire Department, where his dad was Chief. He recalls, “It was about the adrenaline rush at 16 – the sheer excitement of it all! It wasn’t uncommon for us to get up during Thanksgiving dinner and rush out of the house.” His brother, Ralph Monaco, now a local area realtor, joined him two years later.
Inspired by the TV show, Emergency, Doug attended one of the first ever EMT classes in Northern Virginia. He became a certified EMT in 1973 while still in high school. Doug said, “I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly – it opened up a whole new viewpoint of the world for me. There was never any doubt what I wanted to do for a living.”
Attending Northern Virginia Community College, Doug earned an Associate’s Degree in Fire Science. He was hired full-time by Prince William County in April 1975, continuing to volunteer for Centreville until his move to Remington in 1984. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1980 and Captain in 1990, retiring in 2008 after 33 years. He is a State Certified Fire Officer Level IV, and a Fire Instructor Level IV.
Lieutenant Dave Cooper, of the Prince William County Fire Department, worked with Doug for many years. He commented, “Doug was the first officer that I worked for when I started 25 years ago in 1990. He is the best officer I ever worked for or with. If Doug was on the scene, you knew you were good to go. He was always fair, always trying to get the best out of everyone.”
Dave, who lived near Doug, was one of the Charter members of Little Fork. At one time, Doug was the Chief and Dave was the second in command. He recalled, “In the early days, before we had land or a building, there was many a night the Chief’s buggy or the first fire truck sat in my driveway awaiting a call as we ran the department out of our homes.”
The current second in command, Deputy Chief Roger Lightner, who has known Doug since he was 12 years old, commented, “When it comes to running a fire ground (incident), he’s the best there is. He is very well-trained, very knowledgeable, and is very good with people. He is an excellent Fire Chief!”
In 1978 Doug became a State Fire Instructor, a side job he did on evenings and week-ends. Today he continues teaching basic pump operations and rural water supply for the State, and is a State Site Tester.
His latest challenge, from a command perspective, involves large animal rescue. He explained, “We ran a couple of calls involving horses and I realized we didn’t know what we were doing. I took a technical class, and I thought it was very cool. It was totally new for fire and rescue. No one else was doing it.” With new specialized equipment that was funded by horse groups, Little Fork began a large animal rescue program in 2011. Doug added, “It is a low frequency/high intensity call – the danger is as great as it is with a burning building.” Little Fork is the only all-volunteer Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue Team in Virginia.
Now, Doug and his significant other, Melissa Mainville, a speech therapist, EMT, and horse enthusiast, partner in teaching other departments how to stay safe during large animal rescue. She offers insight into equine behavior, while he teaches the more technical aspects of the operation.
Doug says that he will never really retire. He does hope to do some traveling one of these days, but then he will go right back to doing what he loves. He says, “With this occupation, I have learned to appreciate all that I have. I appreciate all that life has to offer.”