An update from Vernon’s Fire Chief, Alex Dunklee, April 1, 2021
I am grateful to announce, at the time of the writing of this update, the Vernon Fire Department is officially open, and responding to fire calls… we have wheels on the ground. What does this mean for our community?
- Vernon Fire Department will be placed on the initial call for response to all hazardous incidents located in our community.
- At this time, our apparatus response will be limited to 3 pieces of equipment. Engine 1, Rescue 1, and our Brush Truck will be available for response. As personnel become signed off, and equipment is updated/ maintained additional apparatus will be placed into service.
- Currently, we have 19 active members of the department including fire and EMS.
- Surrounding towns will remain in place for initial call response to all Fire Department related incidents within our community.
As we work through this initial phase of re-opening, we will be continuing to assess and evaluate the progress of our department. We will be looking at how many personnel are responding to calls at varying times of the day, we will be continuing to assess how the department is working together as a team, and we will be continuing to develop our training and skills. The next couple of months will be important, to gauge the effectiveness of our trainings, as well as setting forward a path of how we will be proceeding with advancing our knowledge and abilities.
It is worth mentioning what has gone into getting the department re-opened.
As of January 1, 2021:
In excess of 450 personnel hours of trainings have been conducted. The level and complexity of these trainings has varied greatly. We have worked closely with Guilford fire department, conducting practical training evolutions in tandem- pumping, driving, search and rescue, equipment proficiency. Brattleboro Fire Department has hosted classroom and hands-on trainings — ladders, proper ventilation practices, fire behavior, and building construction. We have performed in-house trainings — SCBA proficiency, re-configuring and checking the equipment on the apparatus, medical training. As well as members performing self-study programs online, and membership enrolled in the Firefighter I class.
Over 160 personnel hours of meetings have been held. Meetings have been conducted with the advisory committee, as well as with the officers of the department. We have been working on ensuring that all of our equipment is up to date and properly serviced, developing policies and procedures, working through personnel matters, conducting interviews, setting up the organizational and operational structure, developing training ideas, evaluating areas for improvement, and keeping each other up to date with the constantly evolving changes.
There have been 53 calls for service during this time period within our community. We have 85 personnel responses to those 53 calls, as well as the mutual aid that we have received from our surrounding communities.
As of our re-opening, the fire department had been shut down for approximately 6 months. It is important for the residents of our town to understand why the closure duration extended for so long, and what steps are being taken to ensure that this does not happen again.
As the committee began to meet, the first couple of meetings were spent understanding the reasons the department had been shuttered, developing a formalized interview process, understanding the status of the equipment, and developing a plan that would allow for us to function effectively, while dealing with the pandemic.
Most of the month of November was spent interviewing applicants, getting to know the membership, and implementing a fair on-boarding process. Through the month of December, we brought small groups of membership into the station, so the new leadership could sit down with them, and interview them to learn their thoughts, concerns and hear any suggestions that they had to improve the department. The re-occurring theme that was heard was the concern for a lack of training. This was a major factor in delaying our re-opening, and setting a target date of April 1.
The months of January through March consisted of an aggressive training schedule. This served a couple of purposes; to ensure that all personnel had at a minimum received refresher knowledge in topic areas, to establish and implement minimum criteria for personnel who will be driving and operating department apparatus, for the chief officers to observe the membership at work and to evaluate the departments’ effectiveness as a team. This time also allowed the new leadership a chance to develop a working relationship with the members of the department and to understand their abilities, as well as to become acclimated to their roles and responsibilities, and to develop knowledge of the resources and equipment that is available.
All steps that have been taken to re-open the department have been performed with the forethought of sustainability, and to develop an organization model that allows for our leadership to function as team, and to fully support the advancement of the knowledge, skills and abilities of the membership. It is the intent to structure this organization, so that all members have an opportunity for development into becoming future leaders. All procedures, and policies are being developed with a mindset toward sustainability, and ensuring that our community is receiving a service that is continually improving, rather than remaining status quo.
I would like to extend sincerest thanks to the following for working tirelessly and diligently to help us get to this point:
- My family- for continuing to be fully supportive, and allowing me this opportunity to serve our community
- The members of the advisory committee.
- The officers and staff of the Vernon Fire Department, as well as their spouses and families who have sacrificed so much during these busy times.
- Guilford, Brattleboro, and Bernardston Fire Departments, as well as all other area fire departments.
- The Vernon Selectboard
- The Citizens and Community of the town of Vernon
Effective April 1, Brattleboro Fire Department will be enacting their changes in leadership. I would like to extend congratulations and well wishes to Chief Bucossi, and thank him for his many years of service, as well as for his assistance with ensuring that our department is heading in the right direction. Chief Bucossi has not been afraid to ask the tough questions, and his perspective has certainly enabled us to ensure that improvements are continuing to be made. Thank You.
I would like to also congratulate the new leaders of the Brattleboro Fire Department. I greatly look forward to working closely with Chief Howard, and Assistant Chief Keir.
Chief- Vernon Volunteer Fire Department