Firefighters answered the call: County department members honored for service
VERGENNES — Crisply dressed in uniform, members from 17 local fire departments gathered on Wednesday evening for a hearty meal, a warm welcome by Gov. Phil Scott, and to receive honors from the Addison County Firefighters Association for countless hours of service.
Scott, who attended the annual meeting for years as lieutenant governor before taking over the state’s top office this month, received a standing ovation as he stood in front of more than a hundred first responders at the Eagles Club in Vergennes.
“I always look forward to coming and looking across this crowded room, and being so impressed and proud at this volunteer group — you look so professional,” he said. “It’s a sight to see.”
Scott recounted a similar event he had attended in Burlington last March, honoring everyday heroes. One of the honorees at the dinner, a plumber from Monkton, had been out on a call when he noticed smoke billowing from a house on his route. He pulled over and heard cries for help, and upon entering the house, found an 84-year-old woman in a wheel chair.
“A few things really struck me about this story. First, the bravery of this man, and how fortunate he and the woman both were for getting out unscathed,” Scott said.
“But it was what one of my colleagues said to me after that truly left an impact … He pointed out that the plumber had not just saved the woman — he had saved many of our firefighters from traumatic stress. If they had arrived on scene, and he hadn’t been there, there would have been no way to save her, and they would have had to find that.
“So I realized that, while I’m always one to have a great deal of gratitude and respect for our firefighters and emergency responders, I had never truly thought about the impact of your experience — the lives and homes that can’t be saved,” he continued. “We can all learn a lesson about service and dedication from each and every one of you, and I’m truly in awe of those like yourselves you are willing to run toward danger to protect others.”
Bristol firefighter Bill Elwell, chair of the association’s Training Committee, spoke of a successful year of firefighter training within the county. In 2016, Addison County’s fire departments, together, logged more than 17,474 hours of training. In addition, 13 graduates completed a Firefighter 1 class last May, and eight more are currently enrolled in this year’s class.
Mike Donnelly, chair of the Recognition and Awards Committee, distributed plaques to a number of worthy nominees under nine categories.
The Attendance Award, given to the department with the highest percentage of attendees at quarterly meetings, went to the Monkton Fire Department, with New Haven second and Vergennes third.
The Chief Ralph Jackman Youth Firefighter of the Year award placed the Awards Committee in a tough spot, Donnelly said. Ferrisburgh had nominated its entire six-member cadet class of 2016. Ultimately, the award went to Cadet Anthony Robideau of the Bristol Fire Department.
Association President Brett LaRose, head of the Bristol Fire Department, was recognized as Chief Officer of the Year. As he accepted the award with his wife, Erin, and parents, Connie and Ron LaRose, standing by his side, all members of the audience rose to their feet applauding. Rose was at the helm last year as Bristol opened a brand new, 11,000-square-foot fire station. The West Street building came in slightly under its budgeted $3.19 million.
Fellow Bristol firefighter Bill Elwell was honored as Addison County Firefighter of the Year. The pastor of the Bristol Federated Church who also serves the Monkton Friends Methodist Church, Elwell last summer was honored by the Vermont State Firefighters’ Association as 2016 Vermont Firefighter of the Year.
Ryan Cushing of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department took first place for Emergency Maintenance Technician.
Senior Firefighter of the Year was awarded to William “Bill” Brown of the Vergennes Fire Department.
Chris Reed, an Addison firefighter, was recognized as Line Officer of the Year. Reed stood alongside his wife and two children as he accepted the plaque.
The award for Friend of Addison County Firefighters went to Holmes Jacobs, co-owner of the Two Brothers Tavern in Middlebury.
Roger Thibault of the Bristol Fire Department was honored for his 50 Years of Service.
Two members received the Addison Country Firefighters Association Life Membership. The first was retired chief of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department Dave Bowles. Brett LaRose also received lifetime membership after serving two successful years as the association’s leader.