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Hundreds gather to honor beloved county firefighter Bob Jenkins

MIDDLEBURY — Firefighters from all corners of Addison County and beyond converged on Ferrisburgh this past Sunday, Dec. 3, to help one of their own celebrate a national tribute earned through years of selfless service to others.
They wore different uniforms, but they were all part of the same family, honoring Bob Jenkins — a 49-year member of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department and a man who has helped train generations of area firefighters.
“He was like a father to the firefighters of the county,” Dean Gilmore, New Haven’s assistant fire chief, said of Jenkins.
And many of his “children” looked on while a tragically frail Jenkins — who is battling cancer — was read a recent entry into the U.S. Congressional Record acknowledging the legendary firefighter’s contributions to public safety in the county he has cherished.
“The bottom line is that Bob Jenkins has unselfishly protected and served his community for 55 years,” reads the entry, offered in late October by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “He is a model for what leadership is about.”
Jenkins’ public service resumé is impressive.
He joined the Vergennes Fire Department in 1962, following in the footsteps of his father, George Jenkins.
After serving five years in Vergennes, Jenkins helped form the New Haven Volunteer Fire Department in 1967. He continues to be an honorary member of that force.
Jenkins moved to Ferrisburgh in 1968 and immediately joined that community’s fire department. His peers elected him chief in 1970, a position he held for 19 years.
“Bob remained very active after stepping down as chief, spending countless hours working with successive chiefs, passing on knowledge and expertise to help maintain a professional and highly trained department with well-maintained equipment,” reads the tribute to Jenkins.
His contributions to firefighting have reached far beyond Ferrisburgh’s borders.
Jenkins served on numerous Addison County Firefighters Association committees. He was made a lifetime member of the association in 1993. He also served many years as an instructor for the annual Addison County Regional Fire School, which draws firefighters from throughout Vermont, New York and Canada.
In 1994, the 24th Annual Regional Fire School was dedicated to Jenkins for his commitment to the training program.
FIRETRUCKS AND CARS line up along Route 7 in Ferrisburgh before the start of a ceremony honoring Bob Jenkins at the Ferrisburgh fire station Sunday. Photo by Mark Bouvier
He served for decades as an instructor for the Vermont State Firefighters’ Association and is a charter member of the Vermont Fire Academy training center in Pittsford.
“He is passionate about teaching young firefighters all aspects of the fire service, from today’s firefighting skills to department history,” the tribute reads.
His expertise in building construction has been particularly important during training and has helped keep many Vermont firefighters safe during fire calls, his colleagues noted.
Last summer, the Ferrisburgh Fire Department took delivery of a new frontline engine and appropriately dedicated it to the man many continue to call Chief Jenkins.
Gilmore and current Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager had been looking at ways to pay tribute to Jenkins and his more than half-century of fire safety service. Gilmore had successfully spearheaded a Congressional tribute for the late Vergennes Fire Chief Ralph Jackman, and decided to attempt the same thing for Jenkins. That meant compiling Jenkins’ considerable biographical information, which he turned over to Sanders’ office.
This effort preceded Jenkins’ cancer diagnosis. The disease has tragically advanced to a point where it has sapped Jenkins of his strength and energy. This made Sunday’s ceremony a decidedly bittersweet occasion.
“It was a very emotional ceremony,” said Wager, who organized the event at the Ferrisburgh station that drew an estimated 300 participants. Along with Jenkins and his family and friends, attendees included members of the Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, New Haven, Addison, Middlebury, Bristol, Weybridge, Starksboro, Monkton, Salisbury, Bridport, Hinesburg, Shelburne and Charlotte fire departments.
Many of these departments brought fire trucks, which first gathered at the Ferrisburgh town garage off Little Chicago Road, then paraded up Route 7 to the town firehouse.
Wager has been with the Ferrisburgh Fire Department for 40 years, the past 19 as chief. He said he was greatly influenced by Jenkins.
“Bob was my mentor,” Wager said. “I learned an incredible amount from that man.”
Gilmore believes Jenkins has had a positive impact on virtually everyone with whom he has crossed paths.
“If you met Bob, he was your friend,” Gilmore said. “He lived for working with new firefighters, particularly the young firefighters.”
While the medical prognosis for Jenkins wasn’t good as the Addison Independent went to press, it’s clear the veteran firefighter’s legacy will have a positive impact on others for many years to come.
“I’m proud of Bob and glad he was able to get this recognition for everything he’s done,” Wager said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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