Thursday May 17, 2018
For Fire Chief Douglas Brent, leadership of the South Burlington Fire Department (SBFD) has gone far beyond holding a position or a title; he has led by action and example as he guided and expanded the department during his watch. Leaving a long list of accomplishments and a stellar department as his legacy, Chief Brent announced his retirement on the first of May. He will complete his service to the city June 1, after 16 years at the helm of SBFD.
Reflecting on his years of service to South Burlington, Chief Brent expresses gratitude to the city he has called home, noting that in addition to leading the fire department, he has been a fully vested member of the community as a resident, a home owner, a taxpayer and a voter. “Thanks for having me, thanks for welcoming me and my family with open arms when we moved here. Thanks for trusting my judgment, my opinions, my recommendations for the safety of the public. Thanks for supporting the initiatives I have put forth over the years,” he said.
Those initiatives have continued to grow over the years Chief Brent has been in charge of the SBFD. When he joined the department, there were 16 fulltime firefighters. Now the department has 32 full time employees, and two fire station locations. In addition, according to the city, all SBFD professionals are dual role, cross-trained and certified firefighters and EMT’s, EMT Advanced, or paramedics. The SBFD answers approximately 3,600 emergency responses per year, making it the the second busiest fire department in the state for emergency calls.
Chief Brent is well known as the longest serving career fire chief in Vermont. He began as a member of the Springfield Fire Department and first became chief at the Bellows Falls Fire Department in 1986 and, thereafter, at the Barre City Fire Department in 1992. Ten years later, in 2002, Brent was selected to be the SBFD fire chief. He says, “I was chosen from a pool of several superb candidates and for that I feel very humbled. I was fortunate to have known all of the previous South Burlington Fire Chiefs, so I knew what a good reputation the department had and what a great city South Burlington is.”
City Manager Kevin Dorn said, “Doug is a true professional and will be greatly missed by our team and by the residents of South Burlington.” Dorn is quick to comment on the extent of Chief Brent’s service to the city. “Doug has been an outstanding chief and a tremendous part of the city management team. People may think of him as fire chief, but he has a much broader responsibility managing the ambulance service while also being the Director of Emergency Management.”
“Doug has well-served the community as chief for 16 years, one of the longest ranking chiefs of a public safety division the city has known, and he will certainly be missed,” says Deputy City Manager Thomas Hubbard. “South Burlington has become one of the best resourced fire and EMS departments under Doug’s management. He has led our emergency operations, instituted the paramedic program, expanded the department staff and services, brought ambulance services under the department’s operations, was instrumental in bringing both fire inspector and electrical inspector services to the department, and has overseen two emergency communication upgrades during his time as chief, just to name a few of the significant achievements under Doug’s tenure. He is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable chiefs in the state, highly regarded and respected by everyone. Doug’s commitment, dedication, and service to the community over these many years has been simply outstanding.”
This dedication has also been apparent to many residents over the years. Fully committed to those he has served, Brent says, “I have become very fond of the people in those communities. I often meet these people on the worst day of their lives, so it’s important to me that we have given the citizens the best and most professional service possible.” Noting the depth and breadth of his career, he said, “When you look back and think of the hundreds and hundreds of people I personally took care of and helped, and add to it the thousands more that my staff has treated and helped over the many years, it comes full circle and you remember why you got into this line of work - to help people.”
Brent is known across the state and throughout the New England region for his leadership and knowledge of emergency management systems. In the fall of 2017, the chief was recognized by the board of directors of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians for achieving 40 consecutive years of national EMS certification. This distinction is an honor held by very few professionals.
Brent helped create the first paramedic ambulance service to become licensed in Central Vermont during his time with the Barre Fire Department. In 2010, he wrote a successful federal FEMA Fire Act Regional grant; $647,000 was received to pay for training and equipping South Burlington, Essex and Colchester rescue services to become paramedic level squads.
South Burlington Chief of Police Trevor Whipple worked with Chief Brent when they both were employed by the City of Barre. “I greatly enjoyed working with him in Barre as a fellow department head. Under his leadership, we had great working relations between the police department and the fire department. When I left in 2006 and moved to the South Burlington Police Department, one of my deciding factors was that I would again get to work side by side with Doug.” Citing Brent’s radio projects, his work as Emergency Management Director, and noting that Brent was “the person who made sure that we had adequate food and supplies for our overnights in the Emergency Operations Center during critical events,” Whipple describes the chief as “a dedicated community caretaker,” and adds, “I will forever hold dear my memories of working as a co-chief with Doug.”
Whipple also commends Brent for his work as project director, spearheading a much-needed citywide public safety communications system upgrade in 2017. “He has made certain that we have good equipment, a state of the art emergency communications system, and a professional well-trained fire/EMS staff,” said Whipple.
Under Chief Brent’s direction, the SBFD has been recognized for many accomplishments. In 2014, the SBFD was honored with the Mission Lifeline Award from the American Heart Association. In 2016, the department earned the Ambulance Service of the Year Award in recognition of its commitment to excellence from the Vermont Department of Health EMS Division. Brent says, “These both speak to our ability to save lives, it doesn’t get much more serious than that.”
At the awards ceremony for the 50th Anniversary of Vermont EMS in 2016, Dr. Harry Chen, then commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health, remarked, “The South Burlington Fire Department is a familiar, respected part of its community, and its virtues are well-known beyond the city’s borders.” Upon receipt of the award, Chief Brent commented, “We got this award because of the staff. We didn’t get this award because we have the best trucks, the best ambulances, or the best equipment. When you get letters from doctors in the emergency room, they don’t know if our truck is white or red. They’re writing a letter based on the way we’re delivering services to them.”
One of those dedicated staff members is SBFD Deputy Chief Terry Francis, who stated, “Chief Brent is the consummate professional. He has dedicated his entire professional career to advancing the fire service and bringing it into the 21st century. We are having an asset retire, someone who has been a good thing for the department and has brought us a long way.” On a personal note, he adds, “Doug is a gentleman. He is always available to offer wise and considered counsel.”
The two first met more than 40 years ago when Francis took a class taught by Chief Brent, who has been an instructor for the Vermont Fire Academy for close to 20 years. Most recently, the chief has been a specialty instructor with the training cadre for the fire officer development program, which trains younger members to become officers. Or how Chief Brent describes it, “Preparing the next group of officers for the job I love.”
Chief Brent has a deep appreciation for the work of a firefighter and for the firefighters themselves. “My staff mean the world to me. They are the best. I would, and I do, trust them with my life and the lives of my family, because I live here. Our people are so good that on any given day we accomplish more than any department twice our size because of the quality and capability of our people,” he said.
Brent’s recognition of the work of those dedicated to public safety goes beyond the community level. Over the years, Chief Brent has presided over countless 9/11 ceremonies held at Overlook Park to honor public safety personnel who gave their lives during the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In 2016, Brent remarked, “September is a month of changes, and 15 years ago, our profession and our country were permanently changed … this September, I hope the changes we experience in this year coming will be positive. We need more love in this world. We need more acceptance.”
Hubbard recalls a time shortly after Veterans Memorial Park was built, “Doug brought in a beautifully framed picture he had taken of the Memorial and presented it to me for my office. These are the types of things Doug would do, very kind and thoughtful.”
Linda Zeno, South Burlington Fire and Rescue administrative assistant, who was hired by Brent close to 14 years ago, says of the chief, “He is a remarkable man and an unbelievable boss. I have never worked with anyone who has been more fair.” Like many who speak well of the chief, she states, “If you need a friend or a boss, he wears both hats.”
A special tribute to Chief Doug Brent, honoring his many years of service, along with a City Council Resolution, is planned for theJune 4 South Burlington City Council meeting. Hubbard reports that Deputy Fire Chief Francis will manage all operations of the department until a new chief is hired.
Always quick to shine a light on his staff, Brent notes the community will be in capable hands after his retirement, saying, “Be assured that we have an excellent group of first responders, the best group of first responders, and the community will literally notice no difference in the level of service they receive going forward.”
In the meantime, the city council will consider details of the fire chief job posting and ensuing selection process at their May 21meeting. Zeno speaks for many when she says, “Trying to find a man of that caliber to replace Doug will be extremely difficult,” adding, “They don’t make them like him anymore.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper