The birth of Rockingham County Fire Rescue began fall 1979. The purpose of this service was to enhance daytime responses within specific areas of the County. The initial Fire Stations selected to receive staffing were:
  • Bridgewater
  • Elkton
  • Grottoes
  • Hose Co. 4 (Rock Street Station in Harrisonburg)
  • McGaheysville.

Original Staff

Candidates for employment were required to pass a physical agility test and then were interviewed by County officials, volunteer fire chiefs and presidents. The first staff and their station assignments were:
  • Nick Astrab - Bridgewater
  • Russell Lee Barr - Hose Co. 4
  • Roger Raines - Grottoes
  • Danny Ritchie - Elkton
  • Jeff Werner - McGaheysville

Personnel assignments were to maintain apparatus and stations in a state of readiness and to serve as the driver / operator of apparatus. Career staff were also requested to assist with training of volunteers.

The shifts were from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm Monday through Friday and off on Holidays.


This new service was placed under the direction of Joe Paxton, director of finance and purchasing. The frontline supervisor for the career staff was the volunteer fire chief at their assigned stations. The county administrator at the time of the beginning of this service was William O’Brien.

Fire Rescue Administration Office

The locate of the Fire Rescue Administration Office began in the Mezzanine of the first County Office Building located at the corners of Court Square and East Market Street in Harrisonburg. The office remained there for years until being moved to the Home Extension Office Complex at the County’s Garage Property. Several years later, it was relocated to the East End of the County Office Building located at 20 East Gay Street in Harrisonburg. The next move was to its current location in the West Wing of the County Office Building.


Hazardous Materials Response

These staffing levels remained the same for several years. In the mid 80’s, the department was challenged with the responsibility for hazardous materials responses. The first growth in structure occurred when Firefighter Roger Raines was appointed hazardous materials officer. Firefighters Jeff Werner and Robbie Symons were named as deputy hazardous materials officers.

Deputy Hazardous Materials Officer Robbie Symons was appointed as the department’s hazardous materials officer in 1987. In 1990, Robbie Symons was appointed as the Operation Officer for Rockingham County. In 1993, Robbie Symons was promoted to the rank of first countywide fire chief.


During the 1990's the Department continued to grow by adding a second position to the currently staffed stations. The department identified the need for station officers to manage the additional staffing. In 1997, the department promoted the first field officers with the rank of lieutenant. Those promoted were:
  • Lt. Russel Barr - Co. 40
  • Lt. Danny Ritchie - Co. 15
  • Lt. Jeff Werner - Co. 30
  • Lt. Jerry Bauserman - Co. 50
  • Lt. Chris Ritenhour - Co. 20

Firefighter John Huddle was also promoted as Lieutenant of the newly created Fire Marshal’s Office. During the next several years, several additional promotions were made:
  • Jerry Bauserman - Deputy Fire Chief
  • Karen Will - Lieutenant of Fire Prevention
  • Ike Diehl - Lieutenant of Training


The Department continued to grow during the 1990’s, which included experimenting with various work shifts. They included the 8am.-5pm. shifts, overlapping 8-hour shifts, and 10-hour shifts. The department then decided upon trying 12-hour shifts. The department now has five 24 hour stations and eight 12 hour stations.

This decision required hiring additional personnel and lead to another round of promotions.

Special Operations

During this time frame, the department identified several areas of special operations to improve services. The special operations identified were the need for a hazardous materials response truck to replace an outdated support unit and the need for a Dive / Water Rescue Team.

The need for the water rescue team was determined by the location of the available resources at the time and the increasing number of water rescue events in the County. In 2003, the department promoted its first captains to assist with managing the additional personnel:
  • Captain Russell Barr - Co. 50
  • Captain Danny Ritchie - Co. 15
  • Captain Jeff Werner - Co. 80
  • Captain Woody Brown - Co. 40
  • Captain Jody Quessenbury - Co. 30
  • Captain Ike Diehl - Co. 20 (from training)