Coyte is Keysville Firefighter of the Year

Published 4:09 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Something rare happened to Jeff Coyte during the Keysville Volunteer Fire Department’s (KVFD) Christmas banquet in December: He was speechless.

Usually quite talkative — by his own admission and confirmed by KVFD Chief Lynn Duffey — Coyte, who is in his 70s, said he didn’t know what to say after being named as the department’s Firefighter of the Year.

“I didn’t think I was worthy, but they obviously did,” Coyte said during a telephone interview Monday.

Coyte, who retired to Keysville from Ocean City, N.J., and joined the KVFD just two years ago, suffered a stroke in early August. Hospitalized and then going through physical therapy, which he still undergoes, he only saw his fellow firefighters a few times afterward.

“They asked me to come out for the ‘field day,’ so my wife took me,” Coyte said, referring to the Southside Virginia Volunteer Firefighter Association convention in September when the KVFD competed against other departments across the region in various events.

Duffey said he didn’t see Coyte again until Thanksgiving.

“We had a number of calls that day and he had his wife bring him to all of them,” Duffey said.

“My wife said if they had anything she’d drive me,” Coyte said of the decision to head out to what he said were five calls on Thanksgiving.

Before his stroke, Coyte would man the KVFD’s pumper truck and drive other trucks as needed. On Thanksgiving, he did something just as important: Figuring out what the firefighters had to do to keep the fires they’d knocked down from rekindling.

“That’s because the second fire can be even worse,” Coyte said.

He should know. He worked for the fire department his father-in-law started in 1936 for 48 years. Coyte said when he retired, he decided to build in Virginia in order to “get away from the toxins” in New Jersey.

Little did he know that hanging his credentials in the shop he’d built would lead to his getting right back into firefighting.

“These three brothers came up here and saw my credentials and said I should go down to the fire station,” Coyte said. “I showed them to Lynn and he said, ‘You’ve got more credentials than I do.’”

Not surprising since, Coyte said, he’s been firefighting for about as long as Duffey’s been alive.

“He’s just an outstanding person,” Duffey said.

Coyte was in his wheelchair at the December banquet and one of the firefighters wheeled him up to the front of the event as award presenters were talking about someone else.

“I thought it was kind of a gag,” he said, only to be surprised to learn they were talking about him.

Coyte has also been attending the KVFD’s monthly Monday meetings again, starting with the one after Thanksgiving.

“The guys said they missed me a lot and said I should come,” he said, and so he has.

In the meantime, Coyte continues his physical therapy.

“I’m learning to walk again,” Coyte said. “I’m taking things one day at a time.”