The new municipal dept. now employs three plus volunteers, seeks growth to ensure shorter response times
By Polly Mikula
KILLINGTON — Over the past three years, fire and rescue services in Killington have undergone some of the most radical changes in its history: In 2020, the new Public Safety Building was completed; in 2022, the town voted to bring the services under municipal ownership; and in 2023, the town hired the department’s first paid employee, Chief Chris LaHart.
Now Killington Fire and Rescue has two more paid members: Glenn Burres, 58, was hired as the assistant chief (a part-time position) and Mark Foote, 30, was hired as full time firefighter and head of EMS.
“I think there’s nothing but opportunity in front of us,” Foote said. “I’m really excited to see how things unfold,” he said, adding: “No transition is ever perfect.”
The past five months under the management of Chief LaHart hasn’t all been smooth. A number of volunteers have quit — including most of the town’s search and rescue team — and a few more resignations from long-time firemen were received by the Select Board Monday, May 23.
But there have also been new recruits and promotions from within, as was the case with Burres and Foote.
Transitioning to a municipal dept.
“What we have to remember is that the reason why we have a hybrid fire department today is because the volunteers came to the town manager saying, ‘we no longer can really provide the service that the town needs. Things are changing, and we have to start looking at a paid fire department’,” Select Board Member Jim Haff explained. “They came to us… And then the board put it up to a vote to the townspeople: ‘Shall the town take this over?’”
That vote was held on Town Meeting Day 2022 and passed with “overwhelmingly support,” Haff said, making the fire department, EMS and search and rescue a new municipal department. (The town had long financed Sherburne Volunteer Fire Dept., but it was an independent agency.)
The board then began to search for a fire chief — and announced it would be a paid position for the first time.
A search committee, made up of three voting members: Tom Rock, Barry Leete and Jim Lewis, reviewed the nearly dozen applications and unanimously recommended LaHart to the Select Board.
On Nov. 14, 2022, Chris LaHart was named the new chief of Killington Fire and Rescue. In January 2023 he took the reins.
Since then he’s been acquainting himself with the building, equipment, personnel and protocols.
Search and Rescue’s reboot
Thus far, the most public display of defection was in March when most of the volunteers with Killington Search and Rescue (KSAR) quit after LaHart took them off duty March 6. (According to LaHart he had repeatedly requested documentation showing the members had proper qualifications and trainings to provide search and rescue services but after 60 days those requests were still not met. He felt sending them out put the town at risk. But former KSAR members felt blind-sided by his sudden top-down/paramilitary style authority over their organization, which had always operated in parallel but more or less autonomously from the fire dept.)
(Editor’s note: neither of the summaries offers a complete picture of the positions above. Please read the many letters to the editor that have run over the past few months for a fuller understanding.)
The former members of KSAR brought their grievances before the Select Board hoping to separate from the chief, but the board sided with LaHart, supporting his goal of creating a united Killington Fire and Rescue team.
“My vision was Killington Fire and Rescue Services. We decided we’re going to re-brand it that way under town leadership,” LaHart explained. “We’re one team, one fight, one set of rules,” he summarized.
The three different programs: Fire, EMS and Search and Rescue will have some different protocols, he allowed, “because EMS is run different than fire. But we’re codependent.”
Chief LaHart and Assistant Chief Burres are the heads of the fire program; Foote is the head of the EMS program and LaHart hopes to name a head of the search and rescue program soon.
“We have training coming up the first of June, I should have somebody in that role by then,” he said.
“We have what we call a unified command structure. There’s not one guy that’s large and in charge primping his feathers out there, we share responsibility for our different pieces of the pie,” LaHart said. “I can’t do it alone. So there’s my help.”
“As a chief officer, it’s incumbent upon me to trust my junior officers,” he added.
As of May 11, LaHart said he had assembled 12 volunteers for the search and rescue program.
“Come June the search and rescue portion will be back in service. But there will not be any more ‘KSAR,’ ‘KSAR’ is gone. It’s now ‘Killington Fire and Rescue Services’,” he emphasized. “We do search and rescue, we do EMS, and we do fire.”
The scope and focus of the search and rescue program under LaHart will be slightly different in that they will not train with ropes for high angle rescues but rather focus on the boots-on-the-ground aspect.
“We’ll do wilderness first aid, lost hikers, lost skiers, lost bikers, injured hikers, injured bikers, rattlesnakes, gunshot wounds, any you name it,” LaHart said. “What we won’t do, at this point, is high angle rescue. I will support the team if they want to learn that skill. The team will develop through Burres, my training officer, he’ll develop the standards that will be used,” he explained.
Minimally, an aspiring search and rescue volunteer for Killington Fire and Rescue Services will need to complete the basic search and rescue course online, CPR, and wilderness first aid, LaHart said. “That would be our starting point to give me enough confidence to stand our portion back up with the state,” he said, adding that he’d support volunteers who wanted to go beyond those basic requirement and get certified as a wilderness first responder (WFR) or in outdoor emergency care (OEC).
LaHart says the vast majority of the calls KSAR took over the past many years required a boots-on-the-ground response only.
Foote agreed, saying: “If you think about ski accidents, mountain biking, hikers, all these things, statistically speaking, the things you’re seeing coming out of the woods are traumas, slips, trips, falls.”
A boots-on-the-ground approach with trained volunteers will be well-equipped to handle all such cases, LaHart, Foote and Burres all said. And if there is a need for high angle rescue, mutual aid from the state and regional crews will be called upon, LaHart said.
“The former members [of KSAR] that left here had established a program that met those needs, I’m gonna use that,” LaHart added. “Yeah, it’s a good program.”
Fire & EMS, it’s all about response time
“Emergency Medical Services [EMS] is 70% of the call volume at Killington Fire and Rescue Services,” said LaHart. “The other 30% is shared between fire-side the search and rescue-side… that 30% can be emergency and non-emergency calls for service,” he said. “Killington averages 1.62 calls a day, which I round up to two per day,” he continued, noting that the volume fluctuates with the seasons in proportion to how many visitors are here. “Sometimes we’ll have four times that,” he said. “But since April 1, I’ve seen a huge decrease in our calls.”
Standards for the fire and emergency medical services programs are based on national recognized goals for response time.
For EMS it’s known as the “golden hour.”
“The golden hour is defined as the time it takes to recognize an emergency… and get that emergency in a hospital,” said LaHart.
The golden hour ideal helps to inform courses of action, LaHart explained further. Such as, “whether I fly a helicopter out here to take your trauma to Dartmouth, or whether I just take the stub toe to Rutland Regional,” he said.
While EMS makes up the majority of the call volume, the number of responders needed is generally fewer.
“Usually you can get away with two,” explained Burres. “Because you’re usually working on just one patient. [Volunteers] just can’t get a whole lot of arms and legs in there … and we don’t transport, so essentially what our guys are doing are patient assessments, doing what they can while they wait for regional. And then they turn it over to them.”
“Not to be morbid, but when you’re not a transport agency, the name of your game is ‘keep the patient alive’ so you can hand them off to the next person,” Foote echoed.
LaHart spoke about the national standard for response time when there’s a fire.
“The goal from the time the emergency hits and I’m notified to the time it takes to be pulling the parking brake on the fire engine is between 5 and 7 minutes, 90% of the time,” LaHart said, quickly adding: “I can’t do that here. Geographically, it’s just not possible.”
Killington has a population of about 1,400 people living in 46 square miles, which averages out to roughly 20-25 people per square mile, LaHart noted. Based on that, “Theoretically, four to six people is what I should have on duty 24/7 to effectively go out and provide a fire response, but… when you bring it up to 13,000 say on a busy weekend, that exponentially increases the people per square mile,” he said. “This is why the hybrid model will be successful here. Because you have to staff up some seasons.”
While the national standards for fire response may be more aspirational than directly applicable for all parts of Killington at this stage, reducing response time will help to protect people and property damage.
For good coverage, the town needs four to six people on each shift, LaHart said, explaining that firemen typically work 12-hour or 24-hour shifts. He hopes to hire another paid firefighter soon, which would bring the team up to four paid employees.
If there’s a true house fire, however, “and I need to do work inside, I need to assemble 17 to 18 people just to be able to meet my legal obligations,” LaHart explained, citing a standard risk matrix. “Killington doesn’t need to have 17 firefighters here on duty. That’s unrealistic,” he said. “I think the hybrid model [with paid and volunteer firefighters] works well here.”
With the addition of volunteers and mutual aid “I can assemble that magic number of 17,” he said.
Volunteering with potential
Selectman Haff said that having the potential to become a career firefighter at Killington could be a draw to join Killington Fire and Rescue.
LaHart agreed: “These two were both volunteers at one time,” he said referring to Burres and Foote. “They had a passion for volunteering and now it’s their career.”
LaHart said he is willing to train anyone who wants to volunteer — and reimburse them if they complete approved courses, but he added that volunteering is a pretty serious investment of time.
“I don’t think people really understand what goes into it from a medical standpoint, from a training and investment standpoint. It’s a real investment the volunteers make, and that they don’t get enough credit,” LaHart said.
“A lot of people want to be driving these trucks,” he added by way of example. “But wanting it and going through what you need to do to learn it, are two different things… Again, it’s my life at the end of that hose line, so I just can’t give it to anybody. The people that really want to do it, you’ll see them on Tuesday nights when we train.
“For people that come to me with experience, we might just need to show them our way of doing things here and there, to work out the kinks, then ‘bam,’ they could be driving trucks in a week,” he said, explaining that a timeline for training really depends on the person. “The time it takes is the time it takes for them to demonstrate proficiency.”
But regardless of experience, “If you want to donate your time to the town of Killington, I will find a place where I can use you,” LaHart said. “I have guys that I know won’t climb ladders. I have guys that won’t go in a burning house. But maybe he’s a commercial truck driver. I teach him how to run the pump. He drives the truck for me. It’s great to know that I got a guy that I know I can rely on to do that kind of work.
“I’ll take people that maybe don’t even have a high school education, but have a great heart and want to learn how to do things… You don’t need to know Pythagorean Theorem to learn how to don and doff a suit,” he said.
LaHart sees recruiting and properly training the Killington Fire and Rescue team as a main focus of his tenure and legacy in Killington.
“I’m here to train the next starting bench,” LaHart said. “That’s it. I’m gonna pass the torch to, hopefully, somebody from within.
“Eventually, you know, I’m gonna retire someday, but I still love what I do,” he added.
Open door policy
“We have an open door policy here,” said Burres. “Anytime anyone who has a question should stop in, or if you just want to say hello. [The Public Safety Building] is now staffed Monday through Friday.”
“I really want people to know that we are here. To come and talk to us. Don’t be afraid to bang on the door. Anytime. If they see cars, or see the bay doors up… we’re trying to let people know that there’s people here … that they can stop by and ask questions. There’s nothing too important — except for if the bell goes off,” he said. “I can leave my desk and drop whatever I’m doing at the time to answer questions… If I don’t have the answers, I’ll find it out.”
When’s the best time to stop by? “Six on Tuesday night,” Foote said.
“That’s when we do our truck checks, when we’re opening cabinets, when we’re engaging with the equipment and the tools,” Burres explained. “Maybe we pull the ladders out or we have some hose off … maybe we’re spraying water into the retention pond … you get to see some of the equipment in action.
“If you might have a passion, seeing some of this being done is a really good way to go: ‘Yeah, you know what, that’s cool, I want to do that!’” Burres concluded.