Baroda volunteer firefighter honored for 50 years on the job

NOW: Baroda volunteer firefighter honored for 50 years on the job

BARODA, Mich. -- His half century of work for the Baroda Fire Department was honored Friday night. And John Chvila’s milestone sheds light on a growing challenge for volunteer departments.

“It doesn’t seem like 50 years!” said Chvila. “But the calendar don’t lie!”

Chvila joined the Baroda Fire Department 50 years ago and has worked under five different chiefs.

He was honored Friday night at the department’s annual appreciation dinner, where six firefighters in all were celebrated for a combined 130 years of service.

But Chvila stands out because his tenure is the longest in Baroda’s history, as well as in Berrien County.

He joked that the chiefs he has worked for have never wanted him to leave the job.

“And none of them let me quit!” Chvila said, laughing. “You know, when I say I want to retire and quit – ‘Oh no, you’re not going nowhere.’”

Friday’s event was held at the Round Barn Public House in downtown Baroda, which is just up the road from Chvila’s business, Johnny’s Barbershop.

Between cutting hair and fighting fires for decades, the lifelong Baroda resident has cemented his reputation as a community man through and through.

“I fought many fires with just my barber smock on,” Chvila said. “And I went through a lot of smocks with burnt holes in them in those years.”

He laughed about it during his interview on Friday, but Chvila would sometimes leave mid-haircut to fight a fire because there was no uniform and not a lot of training required back then.

But things are different now.

Recruiting new people to the department is becoming tougher because of the commitment it takes, even to volunteer.

“These guys got a fulltime job,” Chvila said, speaking about potential candidates. “They don’t have time to go to class for four or five hours a night to take the training.”

“During the day, we’ll have three or four firemen that are close enough by to send the first truck out,” said Larry Klug, the Baroda Township fire chief. “Then it might be another 10, 12 minutes before we get another truck full to go.”

But for now, Klug said Baroda’s department is 21 firefighters strong, ranging in age from 22-years-old to Chvila’s 74.

And if you’re asking yourself, ‘Does Johnny the barber still go out on calls?’ The answer is yes.

“I’m not as fast as I used to be!” Chvila said, laughing.

Chvila’s been fighting fires for so long, he actually helped establish the ‘mutual aid’ system in Berrien County back in 1976. To this day, it allows area fire departments to help each other out on calls when a large response is needed.

The annual dinner held each year is paid for by the Baroda Firemen’s Association.

Chief Klug said he hopes it encourages the firefighters to stick around for years to come.

Currently, the average career for a volunteer with Baroda’s department is 17 years.

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