“Danny Yopp is one in a million,” says Neal Turner, emergency services coordinator for Montgomery County and lifelong friend of Danny Yopp. “The man is just always there. When the call goes off, you are waiting on him to check in, and if he doesn’t, something is truly wrong.”
A first responder in every sense of the word, Danny Yopp has been with the Christiansburg Volunteer Fire Department for more than 43 years, and his dedication to service is what made his name come to the forefront when the Blacksburg Rotary Club was looking for the inaugural recipient of their First Responder of the Year Award.
“The International Rotarian motto is ‘Service Above Self’,” says Tommy Loflin, chairman of the Vocational Service Committee at the Blacksburg Rotary Club. “We do many things throughout the year to honor those folks who are really living this way, like the Citizen of the Year Award. This honors someone who is not a Rotarian but lives the Rotarian ideals and mottos. We look for people in the business community, primarily, who are operating their businesses and personal lives according to these values.”
For 20 years these citizens have been recognized, but along the way they began to notice that nobody does more, or is more deserving of an award, than the first responder crews.
“We decided it was time to start a separate award, JUST for these first responders, as a way to pay respect for all they do,” Loflin continues. “Good lord, they walk out the door in the morning, and they never know if they’re gonna make it back.” And not many people know that nearly every single first responder in Montgomery County is a volunteer. “Danny Yopp is a volunteer,” Turner explains. “As the emergency services coordinator, I hold one of just five paid positions in the county.”
“At one time, Chris Tuck, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, calculated that the contribution of volunteer men and women was something to the tune of $13 million,” Loflin states. “So, in addition to being there when we need them, they are also a huge help for us financially.”
Loflin admits that the award, which comes with a $500 donation to the Christiansburg Fire Department, is a “drop in the hat” compared to everything they do for us. “When you get right down to it, they are unsung heroes.”
Yopp is one of the individuals who has made time to fulfill all the necessary courses, put in countless hours of training, take the required classes (which might only be offered during the week) and invest himself in this major commitment to the volunteer team. When asked about the time investment, Yopp simply replies, “If you are truly interested in being a firefighter, you find a way. It is becoming harder for businesses to allow firefighters to leave their jobs when a call goes off. About 90% of people probably believe we are a career-based organization.” Thus, finding volunteers willing and able to serve is on the decline.
What keeps him coming back? “Well, when I was just a boy, I lived next door to a firefighter here in Christiansburg. I was always excited about the lights, sirens and big fire truck … but now, it is the people. The act of helping others, knowing that you can help stop someone’s home from being damaged and help save a family.” It is also about camaraderie. “We have 40 active members, and when we get a new member they very seldom leave except at their death. One gentleman has been here for 56 years, and that keeps pulling me to continue what I do.”
Yopp was completely surprised by the award. “I had no idea! I was so honored.” While the Rotary Club knows there is no shortage of dedicated individuals worthy of receiving this award, Danny Yopp’s friends and colleagues describe him as a true leader. “When the call goes off, Danny is typically checking in within two or three minutes,” says Turner. “I am in the habit when a call goes off, I listen to see where Danny is.”
Danny Yopp has devoted his adult life to serving all facets of the first responder unit. “He is an excellent inaugural recipient because he epitomizes what this is all about,” says Loflin. “He has worked non-stop and gotten involved with some of the regional and state training and recertification programs to teach others. He is immersed in this whole thing.” During the award ceremony at the Rotary meeting, Yopp spoke to everyone and shared some stories. “We are so grateful for his service, and for the service of all our first responders.”
Text by Emily Kathleen Alberts | Photos by Silver Pebble Photography
Emily Kathleen Alberts is a New River Valley freelance writer and frequent contributor to NRV Magazine.