Bristol fire chief earns firefighter award

BRISTOL — The Vermont American Legion has named Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose the 2016 Firefighter of the Year.

“I’m honored. It’s unexpected. And I’m just truly honored that my peers thought enough of me and my efforts to submit my name for this award,” said LaRose. “I think of all the qualified candidates whose names must have been submitted to be recipients of this award, and the fact that they selected my name it just kind of takes me back.”

In submitting LaRose as the department’s candidate for the 2016 award, the Bristol Fire Department especially noted two qualities: “leadership and trust.”

“His presence, direction and expectations for our department have taken us to a new level,” wrote Awards Committee Chairman Brian Wendel in recommending LaRose for the award.

LaRose joined the Bristol Fire Department in 1995 and quickly rose to be line captain. LaRose was voted first assistant chief in 2008 and chief in 2013. In 2015, LaRose became president of the Addison County Firefighters Association.

LaRose’s leadership has helped the Bristol Fire Department advance in a number of ways. Among his many initiatives, LaRose:

•  Designed and implemented an inspection program to ensure that all BFD equipment complied with National Fire Protection Association standards.

•  Devised an Apparatus Replacement Plan and successfully advocated to the town for a Capital Equipment Fund for major equipment purchases.

•  Brought in thousands of dollars in grant money through his grant writing efforts.

•  Rewrote the department’s standard operating guidelines manual, which has become a reference point for other departments as well.

•  Upgraded the department’s pager and communications systems.

•  Initiated a cadet program, so that young people are being brought into the department to fill the ranks.

•  Set a high bar for all members in terms of higher levels of training.

Most visibly to all members of the Bristol community, LaRose helped to revitalize the Bristol Fire Department Building Committee and through these efforts helped to design and then win voter approval for the new fire station to open later this summer.

Asked what’s most important to him about being a firefighter, LaRose’s answer was simple:

Service.

“First and foremost, it’s giving back to my community. Every small town has the same situation. We don’t have the money to have full-time staff, so the fact that I’m able to make the time in my life to give to our community to protect and serve them that’s the number-one reason.

LaRose also stressed how important it is for firefighters and fire departments to stay current, both through planning and through continuing training.

“I’m always looking into the future. How can we stay current with the times? How can we be more fiscally responsible? Can we look at consolidating resources down the road to make us more efficient, to make us more interoperable with our mutual aid partners?”

LaRose continued, “The fire service is steeped in tradition ... but at the same time if we’re not looking ahead and always learning — continuing education is so important — then you’re left behind, and you are not providing the quality service that you should be providing.

LaRose also stressed how important family support is to all volunteer firefighters.

“What we do in the fire service — speaking for all of us — without our families’ support, what we do is just not possible. My wife, Erin, and my daughter, Ella, who’s almost six years old, they make tremendous sacrifices because dad the fire chief is gone (so often) ... It’s not easy. But (Erin) knows I love it, and she knows I make a difference, and she supports that. Plus I feel as if I’m setting a good example for my daughter to follow. That’s always been a part of my life, public service, from the Boy Scouts to the church to doing this.

“It’s just how I was raised by my mother and father. Giving back.”

The Vermont American Legion will present the award on June 25 at the Killington Conference Center.

Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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