Loudoun's new battalion chief said he never wanted to be a firefighter.
Scott Cullers planned to become a veterinarian and, at the urging of a friend, volunteered at the Winchester fire department in 1973 when he was 16.
"Once I started getting calls, I found my calling. It was instant gratification," said Cullers, who on his first night at the station assisted with outside operations on a house fire since he was not trained. "I found that this was pretty neat."
Over time, Cullers found himself spending more time at the station than at home or at school. He ended up changing his mind about veterinary school after 27 years of volunteer and career work with the Winchester and Fairfax County fire and rescue departments. Even after retiring from the Herndon Fire Station, Cullers plans to take on a new position July 18 as one of three field supervisors of fire and rescue personnel and of incidents in Loudoun County.
"It allows you to challenge yourself," said Cullers, a 47-year-old Winchester native. "It allows you to impact a person, place or thing instantly."
CULLERS STARTED his fire services career volunteering for the Friendship Fire Company in Winchester, later becoming the first volunteer battalion chief there. He served as the chief of the South End Fire Company and of the Rouss Fire Company, also part of the Winchester fire department.
In 1974, Cullers joined the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department and in 1997 began serving as captain and station commander of the Herndon Fire Station. He remained a volunteer for the Winchester fire department until 1993.
"It's important to give back to your community," Cullers said. "Secondly, my volunteer work in Winchester made it easier for me to make a career in fire service. It gets in your blood."
As a volunteer fire chief, Cullers learned how to run day-to-day operations at the Winchester stations, establish response procedures and training programs, and act as a liaison among city administration, the career chief and career staff. Cullers did some of the same work as the Herndon captain and station commander, where he also budgeted for the station and filled in as battalion chief.
"He [Cullers] knows both sides of the system, volunteer and career," said Wayne Whetsell, fire chief for the Leesburg Fire Company, Stations 1 and 20, where he has volunteered for the past 16 years. He also has served as a career firefighter in Fairfax County for more than eight years. "That's what Loudoun County needs ... because Loudoun County is going through a lot of growing pains on the career and volunteer side as well," he said.
In Loudoun, Cullers will fill in as relief for battalion chiefs Allen Colby and Michael Richardson, who cover the western and eastern ends of Loudoun's 517 square miles respectively.
"It enhances our program in a way we will have battalion chief coverage Monday through Friday," said Mary Maguire, public information officer for the county's Department of Fire and Rescue Services.
AS ONE OF THE BATTALION chiefs, Cullers plans to conduct station visits to get to know the volunteers and career staff at the 17 fire and rescue companies in the county, attend the companies' monthly meetings and meet with the fire chiefs at each fire and rescue company.
"I want to support each person I can," Cullers said, adding that establishing an open line of communication will be important for his role as battalion chief. His management philosophy of treating people the way he expects to be treated applies to treating volunteer and career staff the same. "A firefighter or paramedic working an incident or scene, it doesn't make a difference to me if they have a paycheck or not," he said. "This is a true combination system. You have to have the mind set that this job can't be done without a volunteer or career staff. It has to be a collaborative effort."
Cullers' second goal is to assist firefighters and rescue workers on incidents by managing the scene and allowing them to do their job, while providing the materials they need, ensuring their safety and managing the communications in a response call. "We're nothing more than a tool of the first arriving fire station," he said. "We're there to assist the company any way we can. We manage the scene, but we allow firefighters and rescue workers to do their job."
"Scott is laid back to a certain point," Whetsell said. "When things are rolling, he concentrates on one thing. ... He's an outstanding instant commander. He takes care of his guys."
CULLERS' EXPERIENCE, training and formal education helped prepare him for the battalion chief position in Loudoun, Cullers said.
"This is a great system here. There are a lot of dedicated people, men and women, in the fire system," said Cullers, who as a Fairfax employee ran daily mutual aid calls with the Loudoun County department. "I found them to be bright, intelligent and motivated. It's my work ethic," he said. "In fire service, it's important to do the best job you can."
Battalion chief Robert Witherow of the Reston Fire Station agreed. "He's a committed person and ... will try to do his best to do the right thing," Witherow said "That will trickle down to the personnel in his battalion."
Cullers earned a bachelor of science degree in fire science administration from the University of Maryland in 1995 and a master of science degree in management from National-Louis University in 1997. He plans to continue living in Winchester with his wife Vikki Cullers, who owns a clothing store there.