Louisa Volunteer Fire Department Chief Robert “Bubbie” Whitlock has plenty of stories to tell. After serving his community for more than three decades, rising through the ranks, and ultimately taking over as chief in 2014, he has a unique perspective on public service, and no shortage of tales to tell about his years as a member and officer of the fire department.
The lifelong Louisa resident is a married father of two adult sons. He’s also a certified Evinrude and Yamaha technician, and he runs a successful boat and engine repair shop on Main Street, next door to the fire department. He took over Louisa Boat and Motor from his parents and currently employs one of his two sons, making it one of the few archetypal family businesses left in the community.
In the early 1980’s, a friend asked Whitlock to help with the Louisa Firemen’s Fair, which has been operated for decades as the main fundraiser for Louisa Volunteer Fire Department. Whitlock officially became a member in 1983, and in the 34 years he’s been serving the community, he’s seen more than his fair share of both tragedy and heroism.
“Back in the day, we could have as many as five or six structure fires in a day,” Whitlock said. “Whereas now, you don’t have that many, because people are more conscientious of what they do.”
The fire chief has responded to some of Louisa’s most dire and life-threatening incidents. After the smoke clears and the lights disappear, the toll that managing these events can take on first responders can often be overlooked.
“We’ve had some really bad wrecks where people got killed,” Whitlock said. “And it just sticks in your mind.”
Of the memorable fires in Louisa County, some stand out in Whitlock’s mind as memorable.
The biggest structure fire, he recalls, was when Turner’s Store, where present day K&B Market stands, burned to the ground.
“That wasn’t too long after I joined the fire department. That was an all-nighter,” he said. “I don’t know if they pinpointed exactly what caused it, but we went inside and it was real clear, and by the time we found out where the fire was, someone had gone and busted a window out the back of it, and a lot of air got in there.
(This is a partial article. To read FULL story, pick up a copy of the Feb. 22, 2017 issue of The Central Virginian)