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Pioneer first responder retires

Tuesday, Dec. 3 | By Julie Taylor
Battalion Chief Justin Clayton recently woke up one morning and decided he had other things to do. After serving our community for 40 years, 20 as a volunteer, 20 as a career staffer, Clayton will retire next February. Clayton's current position as battalion chief means that he supervises fire and rescue workers in the field. He has grown to love Fauquier and its residents, but he hasn't always lived here.

"I grew up in New Hampshire," he said. He was drawn into the service by a mentor.

"He was a friend of my family's in charge of ski patrol and captain of the local fire department. I was a kid at the time," he said.

"I started out as a firefighter. I had to take advanced courses to do Ski Patrol, then I got more involved in emergency medical services (EMS).

"When I left home I went into the service," Clayton said. He served the U.S. Army overseas, then was stationed at the Vint Hill Army Base with his wife. After living there for a year and a half, they couldn't think of a reason to leave the area.

"I couldn't visualize spending my life anywhere else,” Clayton said. Clayton joined the Warrenton Volunteer Rescue Squad in 1968. He watched the disciplines of fire, rescue and emergency services mature over the course of his career. When he started, he said, all a medic needed under their belt was 30-hour advanced first aid class.

"If you see blood you put a bandage on it," Clayton said. When Clayton started his service in Fauquier County, the fire stations had no paid firefighters supplementing the staff. The fire halls were all volunteer, all the time.

When asked about the equipment available back then, Clayton simply smiled, raised both hands and wiggled his fingers. Before long, Fauquier's fire and rescue program evolved. Clayton evolved with it.

"Fire and rescue decided we needed Advanced Life Support (ALS) coverage," he said. ALS medics get training to treat heart attacks, grievous injuries and the most severe medical emergencies. In 1991, Clayton and two others were given the honor of becoming the first career staffers in Fauquier County. The three had a territory of about 660 square miles to cover. Dr. David Snyder, who led a mobile Army surgical hospital (M.A.S.H.) in Vietnam, played a big part in lifting up the quality of Fauquier's fire and rescue services, Clayton said.

"I credit him with the whole success of the program," Clayton said.

"Early on [when we first started Advanced Life Support] we had a lot of good doctors and nurses. Earlier than some of the bigger towns," Clayton said. After serving the community for another 20 years, Clayton's wife who had recently retired said, "You know, this retirement thing isn't too bad." Clayton is finishing up a long, commendable career, and remembers his bravest feats fondly.

"People back then couldn't imagine some of the stuff we're doing now," he said. He said that when he started, 10 to 15 calls would be a busy week for the county. They now have an average of 230 a week.

"I never thought we'd see that many," he said. Although Clayton has often seen people hurt, sick or worse, he said there's a silver lining to his work too. “Any time you get to help somebody out of a situation that's going bad for them. We see people going through the worst days of their lives."

"Delivering babies is fun too," he said. Over the course of his career, Clayton has brought 10 little lives into the county. As far as retirement goes, Clayton described fire and rescue work as “a young persons job.”

“A friend of mine who retired a few years ago said, 'You'll know when it's time.' I woke up one day and said, 'Maybe there are some other things I could be doing.'" He plans to say goodbye and not look back, shutting the door and turning off the scanner. He said he wants to spend more time in his woodworking shop and more time spoiling his granddaughter.

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