Top Addison County firefighters lauded a ‘family’ reunion

FERRISBURGH — “Family” was a theme that weaved its way through the 74th annual meeting of the Addison County Firefighters’ Association, held at the Eagles Club in Ferrisburgh this past Wednesday evening.
ACFA President Randy Stearns, second assistant chief of the Addison Fire Department, could be seen posing for a photo with his daughter, Abbie, who has been a firefighter in the Addison department for going on five years. Randy’s cousin Phil is also an Addison firefighter; and their nephew Dillon Stearns is a cadet on the Ferrisburgh Fire Department.
Brothers Pat and David Shaw of the Middlebury Fire Department could be seen sitting next to each other at table 13.
The Bouviers from the Bristol Fire Department were scattered around the room.
In a way, the nearly 200 firefighters at the Eagles Club, plus the many more in the 17 departments that comprise the association, consider each other family.
In a statement read by his representative, Halley Barrow, Sen. Bernie Sanders recognized “the sacrifices made by firefighters’ families,” who put up with having them not only spend many hours each month at training, but also being called out to fight fires and deal with other emergencies at all hours and on any day of the year — even holidays.
Another family was present at Wednesday’s meeting. Chris Jenkins, his sister Robin Curler, and Robin’s husband Kenneth Curler were there to accept honors for Chris and Robin’s father, the late Robert Jenkins.
The ACFA dedicated its annual firefighter training school, which will be held at Vergennes Union High School on April 28-29, to Robert Jenkins. It also added Jenkins’ name to one of the annual awards, which will know be known as the Chief Robert Jenkins Line Officer of the Year Award.
   BRISTOL FIREFIGHTER/CHAPLAIN Bill Elwell gives hugs to Kenneth Curler, Robin Curler and Chris Jenkins after presenting them with a plaque in honor of Robin and Chris’ late father, Bob Jenkins, who was a local firefighter for 55 years.
Bob Jenkins was a member of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department for 49 years (19 as chief), and before that a member of the New Haven department, and before that a Vergennes firefighter, like his dad.
Jenkins died this past Dec. 7, just days after hundreds of ACFA members and others celebrated and thanked him for his 55 years in the Addison County fire service.
Bill Elwell of the Bristol Fire Department presented Chris, Robin and Kenneth a plaque recognizing Bob Jenkins for his work for the community. It was perhaps the most touching moment of the evening.
“Thank you to the family for sharing Bob with us,” Elwell said. “Especially for sharing him with us during the final days of his life.”
After the evening’s activities, Robin Curler reflected on how much the fire service meant to her father, and said how much she and her family appreciated the recognition that the firefighting family gave to Bob.
“We didn’t even have calling hours (before the funeral) because he had seen everyone right before,” she said.
The bell ceremony was another moving point in the festivities. Everyone stood as a bell was rung three times for each of the firefighters who had died (not in the line of duty) in the past year.
Firefighters from all 17 of the member departments were on hand. In a roll call the numbers from each department showed the following number from each department:
Addison, 20; Bridport, 5; Bristol, 16; Cornwall, 11; Ferrisburgh, 26; Lincoln, 6; Middlebury, 16; Monkton, 10; New Haven, 10; Orwell, 4; Ripton, 4; Salisbury, 5; Shoreham, 5; Starksboro, 6; Vergennes, 25; Weybridge, 6; and Whiting, 6.
The Attendance Award, which is given to the department with the highest percentage of its members who attend the ACFA quarterly meetings, went to the Weybridge Fire Department.
The words that Vermont Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson used to describe what he saw in the men and women in the fire service were “courage, selflessness, perseverance, true grit and people who care about other people.”
In her remarks, Erica Bornemann, the director of the Vermont Division of Emergency Management, made a special call out to the Bristol Fire Department, and particularly to a member with whom she has mentored under. “I learned with the best — Assistant Chief Peter Coffey.”
There was some association business carried out at the meeting.
Dean Gilmore of the New Haven department led a discussion on relevant bills before the Vermont Legislature. The only one that prompted much discussion was S.168, called the Blue Lights Bill. Gilmore explained that it would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who were also first responders by not paying them if they missed work during fire calls or requiring them to take vacation time for missed work for fire calls.
Gilmore said the firefighters he had conferred with were generally opposed to the bill because they feared some employers would be less likely to hire a job candidate who was a firefighter or other first responder.
“We just don’t want to get into the business of telling employers what to do,” he said.
One firefighter said he had lost three jobs over his time in the fire service because of missed hours responding to fires. He said volunteer firefighters need protection.
The membership passed a motion in opposition to the bill on a voice vote, with a number of firefighters voting against the move.
Like any good family, they also recognized the superior work of some of their members.
The Chief Ralph Jackman Youth Firefighter of the Year went to Danielle Morse, a New Haven firefighter who is currently enrolled at Castleton University.
James Robideau, a Bristol FD member who started his firefighting career in Lincoln, earned the Emergency Maintenance Technician/Truck Captain Award.
Robideau’s former chief, Jeff Cousino, earned the Firefighter of the Year honor for his 31 years’ commitment to the Lincoln Fire Department. He responded to 52 of the department’s 72 fire calls last year.
The Senior Firefighter of the Year was Peter Bouvier of Bristol, and the Chief Robert Jenkins Line Officer of the Year went to Corey Collette of Addison for his work keeping the department’s boat ready for rescues, among many other things.
PETER BOUVIER, SENIOR Firefighter of the Year
Bill Sinks accepted the attendance award for the Weybridge Fire Department, and he accepted the Francis Shorkey Fire Chief of the Year Award for himself. He has been chief since 2001.
The Vergennes Fire Department nominated the Basin Harbor Club for the Friend of Addison County Firefighters Award, and the club won the honor. Rob Gaboriault of Weybridge picked up an ACFA Life Membership; he was formerly a member of the Orwell Fire Department.
Finally, the ACFA recognized the more than 400 years of collective service of eight of its members. All of them served at least five decades, some even more. They were
Les Champine, Vergennes.
John Palmer, New Haven.
Jim Ford, New Haven.
Norman Cota, Starksboro.
Tom Estey, Starksboro.
Bernard Duboise, Addison.
Phil Grace, Addison.
Steve Torrey, Addison.
After the other honors were doled out, Randy Stearns had one more accolade to give out — the President’s Award. And he gave it to Karen Taylor, the long-time ACFA Secretary. She got a large round of applause, and later when it came time to vote on officers she even earned a nomination to be the next secretary for the organization (she politely declined). 
Click here to see more photos from the Addison County Firefighters Association dinner.

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