Area firefighters lauded for their dedication and service

VERGENNES — Christopher Herrick, Vermont director of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, looked around the Eagles Club in Vergennes this past Wednesday evening at the sea of men and women in crisp dress uniforms. He was taking in everyone at the Addison County Firefighters Association annual meeting from the most senior to the youngest members of the 200 firefighters assembled.
“I would put any of you up against any fire department in the state of Vermont,” he said. “To those of you who are just starting out in your career look well to those who have paved the way before you.
“You have a great tradition here. You’re very lucky. And it’s up to you to uphold the tradition.”
With that, Herrick matched the tone of the evening, where several Vermont leaders shared their assessment of the state of firefighting, and the Addison County Firefighters Association called out what Vermont Fire Safety Director Michael Desrochers called “the best of the best.”
In 2014 alone (statistics are still being compiled for 2015), Addison County firefighters responded to 719 emergency calls related to fires and a total of 1,066 calls for both fires and emergency medical services, according to the Vermont Division of Fire Safety. Statewide, Vermont fire departments responded to over 45,000 emergency incidents in 2014.
At Wednesday’s meeting Lt. Gov. Phil Scott told the members from the 17 departments in the ACFA that they set an important example of public service.
“When you get to the scene of a fire or an emergency, you don’t ask what happened, you don’t ask whose fault it was, you just ask how you can help,” said Scott. “And I think that we politicians should take a page out of your playbook and become public servants as well.
“There’s a lot of good public servants, here your legislators are great,” he said, pointing to State Reps. Fred Baser of Bristol, Harvey Smith of New Haven and Warren Van Wyck of Ferrisburgh, who were all seated in the hall, “but I’ve seen a lot of politicians fail in that regard over the years. But you should be proud of yourself. We are proud of you. I don’t know what this state would look like without all of you volunteering your time, giving up your events, your dinners, your family time for all of us.”
And indeed, at one point in the evening a number of firefighters left the hall to answer an emergency dispatch.
Desrochers thanked the firefighters on behalf of Commissioner of Public Safety Keith Flynn and added his own two cents.
“Thank you for making Vermont a safer place,” Desrochers said. “You guys, all of you, make my job easier, and we are so fortunate to have a group of people like you. I travel all over the state, I attend all the different fire service functions and this is certainly the best of the best.”
Highlighting the evening, Mike Donnelly, chair of the Recognition and Awards Committee, handed out plaques to a deserving cadre of firefighters. For each award, Donnelly named the nominees from each fire department and then read an extended description of each award’s winner.
Firefighter of the Year went to Ronald “Bugger” Warner of the Middlebury Fire Department. Chief Ralph Jackman Youth Firefighter of the Year went to Morgan Huestis of the Weybridge Volunteer Fire Department. And Senior Firefighter of the Year went to Peter Coffey of the Bristol Fire Department.
Middlebury Fire Department Assistant Chief Myron Selleck was honored as Chief Officer of the Year.
Line Officer of the Year went to Hugh Johnson, a captain in the Starksboro Fire Department. Firefighter Brian Fraser of the Vergennes Fire Department was tapped as Emergency Maintenance Technician/Truck Captain of the Year.
The Weybridge Volunteer Fire Department won the award for best attendance at ACFA quarterly meetings (Ferrisburgh was second and Orwell was third). Bridport resident Martha Morrissey of the Addison County Training Committee received the Friend of Addison County Firefighters Award.
The Addison County Fire Fighters Association doled out two “Life Membership” honors on Wednesday. The first went to long-time Addison Fire Department member Phillip Grace.
The other went to a man who was “present” at the annual meeting via an online connection projected onscreen above the speaker’s podium throughout the evening, because he couldn’t be there in person. Doug Cline of Horry County Fire Rescue in South Carolina was awarded an Honorary Life Membership. Cline is a noted nationwide fire instructor, who has led multiple trainings in Addison County with the ACFA.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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