Middlebury picks Shaw to lead its firefighters

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has unanimously selected longtime Middlebury Fire Department Assistant Chief David Shaw to serve as the next leader of the force.
Shaw was one of two candidates who interviewed for the position that is being vacated by Rick Cole, a 39-year veteran of the department. A special committee recommended Shaw’s appointment after interviewing and vetting the candidates.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said she is pleased that Shaw will be the town’s next fire chief. She dealt with Shaw, among others, during the process that led to reconstruction of the department’s two new fire stations.
“I have found him to be very professional and responsive,” Ramsay said. “He has a good rapport with the department.”
Middlebury officials, citing an exemption in the state’s public records law (1 VSA 317(c)(7)), declined to share the name of the second applicant.
Shaw, 52, is in his 35th year with the Middlebury Fire Department, having held leadership roles during all but nine of those years. A fourth generation of his family (nephew Donald Patterson) recently joined the force.
He joked that he was “hoodwinked” into joining the department by former Chief Don Keeler, the late father of current Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler. Shaw, then an 18-year-old, had lent a hand at a fire scene and Keeler encouraged him to sign up.
“You should fill out an application,” Keeler told him, adding, “I’ll see you at the next meeting.”
It was an offer that Shaw didn’t think he could refuse.
“He was an authoritative figure,” Shaw said with a smile, recalling Keeler’s voice and mannerisms.
Once on board, he caught the bug, and has thoroughly enjoyed every one of his years on the department.
“If you are thirsty for knowledge and a challenge, this is the type of community service you should pick,” Shaw said of firefighting.
Shaw rose in the ranks to captain and then assistant chief, a post he has held for the past 14 years. As assistant chief, Shaw was named the Vermont Fire Chief of the Year by the Vermont State Firefighters Association this past summer.
Myron Selleck also serves as assistant chief of the Middlebury Fire Department, and he will help pick Shaw’s replacement during the transition — unless the selection waits until the annual (internal) fire department elections are held next month.
Shaw on Jan. 1 will officially take over a force with 35 dedicated members who responded to a whopping 226 calls for service during the past year, ranging from minor fuel spills to full-blown fires. He said Cole leaves him an organization that is in good shape, with new facilities. Future challenges, he said, will include recruiting and retaining additional firefighters and keeping a close eye on the department’s equipment needs — including rotating new apparatus into the fleet as the older vehicles exhaust their usefulness. He praised the town of Middlebury for its longstanding practice of setting aside money each year to anticipate future equipment purchases, so as to avoid sticker shock of having to pay for new fire trucks all at once.
“We are currently looking to replace a ladder truck,” Shaw said, referring to one the most costly pieces of apparatus a department can buy. “But it’s key in a community with all the high-rise structures that we have.”
As for personnel, Shaw said the department could easily use another 12 to 18 volunteer members. He noted an average of 50 percent of its roster will usually respond to a call at any time. And those 17 firefighters can be stretched very thin at some major incidents. The Bristol Fire Department is providing Middlebury with some advice on firefighter recruitment and retention, Shaw said.
Actual department operations shouldn’t change much under Shaw’s leadership, with the focus being to respond to calls in a timely manner and working hard to protect lives and property. Shaw, like his colleagues, knows he can be called to a fire at any time of the day or night. He’s grateful to his wife, Wendy, and daughter, Danielle, for putting up with his frequent absences to help safeguard the community. He’s also appreciative of his employer, Co-operative Insurance Cos., for releasing him for fire duty when needed. The town of Middlebury has also offered to lighten his administrative load by providing some in-house support for accounting and other bureaucratic tasks.
Shaw said he enjoys being around a bunch of “can-do” people in the department, and expects morale will remain high among the firefighters.
“I look forward to the challenges that come our way,” Shaw said, adding, “Fire service has to be fun; if it’s not fun, people won’t want to be around it.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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