Gratitude and appreciation were extended to South Burlington Firefighters at a recognition dinner February 21.  Photo: Andrew Johnson

Firefighters Honored at Recognition Dinner

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Thursday February 27, 2014

They are the ones who run toward fire, not away.  They are the ones who are the first to arrive in an emergency. They are the ones who put their lives on the line every day to come to our aid on our worst day.  They are the members of the South Burlington Fire Department, and Friday, February 21, they were officially recognized and honored for their dedicated service to their community.

The South Burlington Firefighters 1st Annual Recognition Dinner was a long overdue event to formally honor the heroic and selfless deeds of the firefighters and the department, according to South Burlington City Councilor Pat Nowak, the organizer of the event.  The dinner, held at the F.H.Tuttle Middle School was well attended by SBFD members and their family and friends, all five city councilors, City Manager Kevin Dorn, Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, city staff, members of the Vermont Air National Guard, and others who came together to celebrate the dedicated department. 

The event including all members of the department was not easy to orchestrate. The SBFD is always busy (the department answered 3,165 calls in 2013), and Friday night was no different. Many SBFD personnel worked right up until the event,  responding to 10 calls that kept them busy until 6 p.m. Burlington Fire Department and the University of Vermont Rescue sent units to the station to cover for South Burlington so that they could attend the dinner without interruption.

The evening began with welcoming remarks offered by Councilor Nowak.  Master of Ceremonies Fire Chief Doug Brent introduced the Color Guard and the gathering stood for the Presentation of Colors followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Department Chief Francis. Council Chair Pam Mackenzie read the Firefighter’s Prayer .

Chief Brent spoke of his pride and respect for his department.  “I can get emotional when it comes to talking about this department,” Chief Brent said during the opening. “I take what we do extremely seriously and I’m very proud of the members and the job that they do…”

Brent introduced the evening’s keynote speaker, Patrick Malone. Malone is the Director of the University of Vermont’s Initiative for Rural Emergency Medical Services and has had a hand in training members of the South Burlington Fire Department.

Even before his emergency services training program, Malone said his respect for the city’s department dated back much further--to his days at Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue when he looked up to the organization.

When Malone served as part of Burlington’s Fire Department, he came to learn more about his neighboring city’s fire department and the leadership that carried it.

“Doug is one of those people in my personal and professional life that I can’t remember the first time I met him...but I see him as always having been there,” he said. “Wherever he was, he was known as a progressive fire chief.”

South Burlington’s leadership also raised the bar for recruiting and hiring personnel; that meant requiring certain certificates and certain levels of confidence, he said. It also meant hiring with a diverse range of experience, both young and the seasoned.

Chief Brent also “became the driving force behind the establishment of a paramedic program in the Vermont EMS District 3 Malone said. “It was largely because of the vision and the efforts that Doug put in with many other people to secure federal funding and to get that program going.”

Malone recalled the day Chief Brent asked if he would organize the paramedic education program.  He did, and out of the 18 students in that class, the seven SBFD students were the top of the class. Malone fondly acknowledged many of SBFD members who had been his students.  

City Manager Kevin Dorn said the SBFD, among other services in the city, are the reason he applied for his permanent position. He finds ways to bring up these accomplishments in discussion:

“I say: ‘do you know that three of our firefighters have degrees in engineering? That all of our firefighters are EMTs, that seven of them are paramedics?’” he said.

Col. Michael Morgan of the United States Air Force thanked the SBFD for the strong relationship it has with the VTANG 158th Fighter Wing. He read a letter from VTANG Adj. Gen. Steven A. Cray:

“We have a more ready, more reliable and professionally trained department because we get a chance to work with you and others,” Cray wrote. “I can only say that I know this relationship is mutually beneficial because I heard that VTANG Engine 7 has been referred to as South Burlington Station 3!” 

There are two SBFD stations: Station One next to City Hall, and Station Two at 3 Holmes Rd.

Morgan echoed Cray’s remarks in his own personal statement. 

“During Phase 5 emergency calls at the airport and the VT Air and Army National Guard Flight facilities we know that, without a doubt, we can depend on our comrades in the SBFD to have our backs,” he said.

Chris Corbin, the president of the SB Firefighters Association, also spoke to the many duties the crew executes while still remaining as an “inherently humble group.

In regard to labor management and recognizing the union executive board, Corbin honored the Professional Firefighters of Vermont Vice President Troy Porter, secretary Micah Genzlinger, and Treasurer Bradley Dattilio for representing the membership.

Chief Brent presented three awards, the first of which was presented to Debbie Kruger for her work as a dispatcher from Sept.1980 to Sept. 2012. The second award went to Andrew Johnson, Operator and Call Lieutenant who served from Dec. 1992 to Aug. 2012. The final award went to retired Assistant Chief Bob Wheel who served from 1983-2012. Chief Brent presented Wheel with his SBFD helmet shield in a shadow box.

City Councilors then awarded members with pins for years of service in five-year increments as Chief Brent called their names. Of the 29 full-time staff and five paid on-call staff, a dozen of them had earned their five-year pin, four had earned their 10-year, three had earned their 15-year, Senior Firefighter Troy earned 20 years, and Capt. Gary Rounds earned his 40-year mark.

The SBFD was recognized  by members of the congressional delegation; though they could not be present, they sent their letters of support. 

From Sen. Bernie Sanders, read by Haley Pero, outreach specialist for Senator Bernie Sanders:

“I know you take great pride in being one of only three departments in the state to hold a Class 3 ISO Fire preparedness rating. This top rating within Vermont makes you a leader in the fire service community. I understand how important it is for fire departments to have proper equipment and personnel, and I’ll continue to support the expansion of the federal grant programs to get you the resources and the support you need to keep our communities safe. The $2.4 million grant money you’ve received since 2002 is testament to the quality of your service as well as your commitment to continuing excellence.”

The department also received gracious remarks from Congressman Peter Welch, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and Sen. Patrick Leahy-- who dedicated a flag to the SBFD which was flown over the U.S. capital at the senator’s request.

In conclusion, Councilor Nowak echoed the sentiments of all in attendance, with a message of deep gratitude and respect for the firefighters.  Additionally, Nowak shared a valuable letter from Rich Tarrant, the chairman of Marathon Health, who witnessed members of the SBFD save a patron’s life at the Outback Steakhouse. 

“They all knew exactly what to do and when, and it didn’t seem they even spoke to each other or needed to speak given their training,” he explained. “I said to my wife that if I ever get ill, would she kindly bring me to South Burlington.”

“I could not be prouder to be your fire chief,” said Chief Brent, the man with the longest serving career Fire Chief in Vermont, as his concluding statement to his entire South Burlington community, his family.
The following groups and persons helped sponsor the night’s event: Larkin Realty, Geri Reilly Real Estate, Outback Steakhouse, South Burlington Realty, Nowak & Nowak Financial Services, Champlain Oil Company, Chris Shaw and Jack Russell.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent