By Katy Savage
As Paul Ginther gets ready to step into his new role as Killington fire chief, he knows his job will be difficult.
“It’s going to be a challenge from top to bottom,” he said.
Ginther, 53, is taking over a department on Monday, July 10 after 13 members of the search and rescue team and 13 firefighters quit or were fired under Chris LaHart, who resigned from the chief position in June after just over five months on the job. Assistant Chief Glenn Burres was fired on June 19 after two months on the job.
There were 21 people on the roster as of June 26, down from about 40 at the start of the year.
“Man power is less than ideal,” said Ginther, who has visited the Killington firehouse twice so far.
Ginther grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, where he had decades of experience in emergency services and was most recently the fire captain of the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. He applied for the fire chief position in Killington last year but was turned down over LaHart.
“I was trying to get out of Florida — too many people and too hot,” Ginther said.
Ginther and his wife originally thought of moving to Maine to be close to family but a drive through the Vermont landscape changed their minds.
Despite not getting the chief position, Ginther made it to Vermont anyway. He moved to Williamstown in January and became director of emergency services in Barre, where he currently manages a staff of 12 people.
“It’s a different pace of life up here,” said Ginther.
Ginther holds multiple certifications in Florida and has training as a hazmat technician and paramedic. He’s working to get licensed in Vermont.
“He was interviewed by the search committee and is highly qualified for the position,” Town Manager Hagenbarth wrote in a June news release. “Paul is an experienced career fire officer looking to further a 34-plus year career by serving and leading the town of Killington Fire and Rescue Department.”
Ginther was hired for $82,000 without benefits as the town transitions from an all volunteer department to a hybrid volunteer and paid department. He’ll be responsible for recruiting new members and managing all aspects of the call volume.
The Select Board decided June 26 to move the Killington Search and Rescue team from jurisdiction under the fire department to the police department. So that will no longer be the responsibility of Ginther.
Ginther got interested in emergency services as a child watching the “Emergency!” television show in the 1970s.
“I oohed and aahed at the firetrucks,” he said.
He became an explorer on the fire department in Florida at age 14, before becoming a full-time firefighter at 18 years old. He worked his way up to becoming fire captain of the 1,600-person Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.
Ginther acknowledged the Killington fire department, which responds to about 400 calls a year, will be different from what he’s used to.
“In all honesty, it’s apples and oranges,” he said. “There’s a big difference from the Killington situation.”
Ginther was unsure how to address the firefighters in Killington who quit and may want to come back. He said he wants to “kind of get a feel for what it is I’ve inherited — how do we best move forward,” before he makes a decision.
“I love the job — getting to make a difference,” he said. “As I’ve gotten older, I still like to think I’m a people person and I get the opportunity to help people.”
He said he’s excited to step into a firehouse again.
“That’s the culture I know,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with the town and working with the department.”
Ginther expects to work another 10 years and after his first winter in Vermont, he and his wife think they’ll stay.
“We both have the spirit of adventure and we like to learn new things,” Ginther said.
Though Ginther lives about an hour away, he hopes to move closer to the Killington area eventually. He said he’ll put an emphasis on protecting the people that work for him.
“I may be hired as the chief, but it’s not about me,” he said. “The department is only going to be as good as its people. I need to be able to facilitate taking care of those people.”