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County firemen earn statewide recognition

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Posted on July 27, 2017 |
By Will DiGravio



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ASSISTANT FIRE CHIEF Pat Shaw, above left, and Chief David Shaw flank Donald Patterson, the Middlebury firefighter who eared the Vermont Firefighter of the Year commendation from the Vermont State Firefighters Association earlier this month. BRISTOL’S ANTHONY ROBIDEAU, below holds his Youth Firefighter of the Year citation and Bristol Assistant Chief Eric Forand displays his Fire Chief of the Year plaque. Both were honored by the Vermont State Firefighters Association this month. Independent photos/Trent Campbell.

ADDISON COUNTY — When a fire destroyed the Blue Spruce Motel in Middlebury on July 12, volunteers from seven area fire departments responded with many firefighters going beyond the call of duty. The Addison County fire service was working like a well-oiled machine to ensure that citizens were safe and property damage was kept to a minimum.

It was this type of selfless hard work that earned four county firefighters from three departments recognition from a statewide organization earlier this month.

Middlebury’s Donald Patterson was named Vermont Firefighter of the Year by the Vermont State Firefighters Association at its annual convention in Rutland on July 8. Also tapped for honors by the VSFA were Bob Jenkins, a former Ferrisburgh fire chief who was named the Senior Firefighter of the Year, and Bristol’s Eric Forand (named Robert King Fire Chief of the Year) and Anthony Robideau (Captain Charles Taylor Youth Firefighter of the Year).

According to Middlebury Chief David Shaw, the collaboration amongst departments shown at the Blue Spruce fire is unique in Vermont.

“At (that fire), they worked side by side with one another as if they were one department. That does not happen in many counties,” Shaw said. “I don’t think people realize how much effort it takes to make that happen.”

Patterson, a fourth-generation firefighter, remained at the site of the motel fire for 13 hours. Once the situation came to an end, he and a few of his colleagues then spent an additional 10 hours laundering all the gear and then putting it all back in place so the Middlebury firefighters would be ready for the department’s next call.

“That’s the kind of quiet stuff that Donald does,” Chief Shaw said. “Donald is an all around firefighter. He’s a guy that logs many, many hours after the scene doing ancillary jobs. He’s a very diverse member of our organization.”

In addition to laundering gear, Patterson maintains the department’s website and will often fill the air tanks of surrounding fire departments. It’s those small, yet crucial things that Patterson does behind the scenes that caused members of the Middlebury Fire Department to nominate him for the award.

“If there’s a fire in Cornwall and a bunch of air bottles are used, I give Donald a call and ask if he’ll fill the bottles, and after work he’ll stop and dedicate a couple hours to filling (them),” Shaw said. “That’s the type of stuff he’s very unselfish about helping out with.”

According to Shaw, that’s just the way Patterson is.

“He doesn’t know any different. He’s a fourth generation firefighter and (to him) that’s just the way it’s supposed to be,” Shaw said. “You can’t find a nicer guy, that’s for sure.”

Forand, the first assistant chief in Bristol, was very deserving of the Fire Chief of the Year, according to Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose. It is the work that Forand does when he’s not fighting fires that makes him such an asset to the department, LaRose said. In addition to being a certified fire instructor, Forand holds a variety of certifications, specializes in vehicle extrication, and is charged with developing and maintaining the department’s standard operating procedure manual.

“We are a very progressive department in Bristol. Eric has a lot to do with that; his vision, his ongoing education, and he recognizes as a leader, as I do, that just because you rise to a certain position the training never ends,” LaRose said. “What we do in this profession is ever evolving, and he recognizes that you must stay current with current standards in order to keep not only yourself safe, but looking out for the safety of other firefighters.”

He is also responsible for the maintenance of the department’s gear, which he inspects every three months. It is his commitment to safety, both on and off the fireground, that has earned the respect of his peers.

“His leadership, his demeanor on the fireground, is always very calm and collected. His communication is very precise and on point. His professionalism is always present and his commitment to the safety of his fellow firefighters is apparent every time we roll out the door,” LaRose said. “He’s honest, he’s sincere, and he’s a man of integrity. Eric is always available to make the fire department a priority and I’m truly proud to have him at my right hand.”

Anthony Robideau, the Captain Charles Taylor Youth Firefighter of the Year, first joined the Bristol department in the summer of 2015, when he was 18 and still a senior in high school.

“One of the things I really admire about Anthony is his work ethic,” LaRose said. “Since he’s been with us, he’s been proven to be an asset to our organization.”

Since then, Robideau has gone from being a cadet to a full firefighter. LaRose said that Robideau has a bright future and he looks forward to seeing the work he does next.

“He shows commitment and dedication at such a young age. You can always count on him. He goes above and beyond,” he said.

Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager said he had many insights into why Jenkins deserved the Senior Firefighter of the Year award, but he got called away by an emergency and could not spell them out for this story. It is well known that Jenkins, who joined the Vergennes Fire Department in the early 1960s, was chief of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department for 19 years over two stints. He has shown time and again great leadership and dedication to the fire service, even into his years in senior status.

Last year the Ferrisburgh department dedicated its new firetruck to Jenkins.

It is the commitment of folks like the aforementioned volunteers that allows Addison County to have such a close knit community of fire departments.

“We are all in this together.,” said Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose. “We all go through the same type of training and the reason we do is because when I show up in the town of New Haven, for example, I know how to fit into their structure, into their organization.

“That’s one of the benefits of belonging to such a well-trained county association.”

Across Addison County, departments are in need of more volunteers, making camaraderie amongst fire departments that much more important.

“Addison County has always been a strong mutual aid organization, but we count on it today more than ever because you just never know who is going to be around,” LaRose said. “You can have the best equipment, the nicest fire station, but without people you can’t do this work.” 

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