Volunteer Extraordinaire — Meet the president of Ashburn’s fire and rescue squad

By Chris Wadsworth

Josh Townsend wears many hats. He’s a husband and father of two young boys. He’s a remote employee of a huge California tech company. And he’s a firefighter with the Ashburn Volunteer Fire & Rescue Department, as well as the organization’s president.

Despite his seemingly endless list of responsibilities, the 41-year-old Ashburn Village resident exudes calm and even grace when he sits down to talk with Ashburn Magazine. Here are portions of our interview.

ASHBURN MAGAZINE: You’re president of the volunteer fire department. I thought fire departments had chiefs. What’s the difference between a chief and a president?

JOSH TOWNSEND: “As a corporation, we have to do all the stuff that any business would do. We’re a multimillion-dollar nonprofit organization so with that, we have a whole lot of accounting, audit requirements. We have legal concerns, HR/personnel type issues … and I’m essentially CEO of the corporation. The chief is essentially the chief operating officer responsible for our operational readiness and making sure that we do the right thing when our neighbors call for help. 

But you’re not just a suit. You’re also a firefighter yourself.

“I’m a firefighter and an EMT.”

Is your position as president paid or volunteer? Because that sounds like an awful lot of work for a volunteer.

“It’s all volunteer. We have to report what our executives do and the amount of time invested and I came in just shy — something like 39.8 hours average per week. It’s a full-time job to run this place.” 

What was your most memorable or impactful incident you’ve responded to?

Each call has its own unique aspect to it. Every call has all the emotions coming together when things happen. Probably the most impactful for me so far was a call I ran just a few weeks ago. It was a fatal auto accident and the scene was hard. It was very hard to take in and understand what was happening because of how bad it was.”

How do you and the other firefighters and EMTs process those types of things? You deal with a lot of tragedy.

“We often say when we’re called, the bad thing has already happened. It’s not our fault that it’s happened. We didn’t put our neighbors in that position. It’s happened and we just have to respond to it with all the resources we have and in the best way that we know how. When you’re done, you have to wash your hands and say, ‘I did my best.’”

If you could tell all of Ashburn one key thing about the fire department, what would it be?

“That we’re volunteers. A lot of times people don’t understand that we are volunteers. On a call, that can be a good thing. Oftentimes, volunteer firefighter may have a connotation that you are the country bumpkin, coming out of the fields or the factory — doing your best because you care. But here it’s very different. We are volunteers, but we are trained at the same level  as the career staff.”

Your department catchphrase is “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.”

“It’s on the side of our apparatus, and it really struck a chord with me. We are volunteers, but we are your neighbors here in Ashburn and we do it because we care about you. And when a neighbor cares about a neighbor and it spreads, and it catches on, it’s harder for people to fall through the cracks because we are looking out for each other.”

Meanwhile, you live here in Ashburn, but you also work for a Silicon Valley-based tech firm. How does that work?

“I’m a senior technical marketing architect … for VMWare. We’re a multibillion-dollar international software company that provides software to run the cloud. I’m fortunate enough to work from home for a West Coast company, so that means I can wake up a little bit later because they’re all sleeping in by my time. I can see the kids out the door to school … and then do some fire department work before my workday starts.”

Fess up, do you ever work in your pajamas or are you more disciplined than that?

“Every day. It’s very rare that I’m not in pajamas — which has become awkward now that we’re doing more video conference calls.”

So, I did some snooping. You’re a woodworker, a veritable craftsmen. What type of things do you make?

“My father was a woodworker, a carpenter — made a lot of cabinetry. That’s a little too much for me, so I make smaller things. I bought a lathe on a whim about six years ago. I taught myself to use it and I’ve been making bowls, pens, bottle stoppers, snowmen ­— ‘tis the season. It’s cathartic to sit there and see a shape emerge from something natural. When I need to escape the realities of work and the fire station and family troubles and everything else, the woodworking gives me an outlet.”

You’re also a craft beer lover. Is living in Ashburn and Loudoun with all these breweries around heaven for you?

“It’s certainly a good place to enjoy craft beer. Unfortunately, I’m on duty so much. I run three or four nights a week here. Drinking and firefighting — they don’t go together so well. It’s probably done well for my weight and my liver.”

What style of craft beer is your favorite and why?

“Generally, an IPA. It awakens the senses. So many flavors can be packed into it. Whether it is citrus or floral or sweet or bitter — you can do all sorts of fun stuff with it. I taught my mom to like beer. She never drank beer before and I gave her an IPA and she said, ‘Oh my, this is great.’ So now that’s family time.”

What’s your favorite thing about living in Ashburn?

“The fire department. That there’s … a place where my kind of people exist, people who give a damn about their world, who just want to just help people. We have it here at the fire department and we’re very fortunate.”


 Favorite Food: Steak

Favorite Drink: Coffee

Favorite Restaurant: Blue Ridge Grill

Favorite Movie: “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Favorite TV Show: “Scrubs”

Favorite Singer or Band: Metallica to Green Day to Nirvana — depends on the mood

Favorite Book: “Atlas Shrugged”

Favorite Color: Black

Favorite Animal: My two pit bulls

Favorite Fire Truck: We have two different fire trucks — there’s an engine and there’s a ladder truck and they do very different jobs. I think I’m more of an engine guy.


1 Comment

  1. Wonderful article. A volunteer fire department is such a asset to a community and this guy puts his heart in it.

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