After a tumultuous start to Killington’s first hybrid volunteer fire department, the town’s first paid fire chief and assistant chief have departed.
Town Manager Chet Hagenbarth announced June 20 that he accepted Fire Chief Chris LaHart’s verbal resignation on June 14 effective immediately, while Assistant Chief Glenn Burres was fired on June 19.
Paul Ginther will step up as the new fire chief and receive an annual $82,000 salary.
Ginther, who lives in Middlesex, will take over July 10. He originally applied for the fire chief position but was turned down over LaHart. He is currently the director of the Barre Town EMS Department. Ginther did not immediately return a phone call on Tuesday afternoon. He said in an email Tuesday night that he was not yet ready to speak about his new role.
“He was interviewed by the search committee and is highly qualified for the position,” Hagenbarth wrote in a 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 has a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration and training in EMS management.
The Select Board called an emergency meeting on Tuesday evening, after the Mountain Times’ deadline, to determine the department’s future and current status, Hagenbarth said.
Both LaHart and Burres were in their positions for less than a year. LaHart took the reins in January under a six-month contract and paid an annual $70,000 annual salary plus benefits, while Burres was hired in April under an hourly salary.
The transition of the Public Safety Building to a hybrid department of paid personnel and volunteers was approved by voters in March 2022 in an attempt to bolster the roster and get more people to respond to emergency calls. At least 25 people quit or were fired over the past six months under LaHart’s leadership, some calling him a bully and sexist.
Hagenbarth estimates there are about 21 people on the department, down from about 40 when LaHart tookover, though Hagenbarth said the town will verify the roster before the new chief takes over.
LaHart said in an email that he was not yet ready to comment on his departure from the department.
Hagenbarth declined to speak about Burres’ termination.
LaHart hired Burres, 58, as the part time assistant fire chief at the beginning of April. Burres had been a volunteer on the Killington Fire and Rescue since he moved to Killington 16 years ago, after retiring as the deputy chief of a fire department in Newburgh, New York. He originally applied for the Killington fire chief position but didn’t have the credentials to lead a department in Vermont. As assistant chief, he was primarily in charge of training and inventorying the department’s equipment.
Burres came under scrutiny earlier this month when he made a homophobic comment on his public Facebook page. The remark, “Hero’s (sic) get a day, homos get a month! I don’t care what your choice is but don’t force it in (sic) me or my family,” was reposted in the Killington Locals Facebook group, which has 19,000 members.
Some on Facebook noted the post violates Killington’s Declaration of Inclusion, adopted by the Select Board in November 2022, which says the town “condemns racism and discrimination in all its forms and commits to fair and equal treatment of everyone in our community.”
Attempts to reach Burres weren’t successful.
Burres has since deleted the post from his Facebook page, but it is still on the Killington Locals page. His public social media page has been riddled with homophobic, transphobic and anti-muslim remarks comments since his employment in Killington began and before.
On April 11, he reposted an image of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas with the comment, “Changes his name to Lia and is now ranked #1 in women’s swimming. In the feeble mind of a woke liberal, this is fair. In the real world it’s not only unfair, but it’s insane.”
On May 6, he reposted an image of the American flag with the comment, “LIBERALS ARE SAYING THE AMERICAN FLAG IS OFFENSIVE TO MUSLIMS. SHARE IF YOU DON’T GIVE A DAMN.”
Mark Foote, 30, is now the town’s only paid staff member. He became the department’s first full time paid firefighter as well as the head of the EMS program at the end of April.
It’s unclear if volunteers who left the department will return under new leadership.
Tom Rock, who resigned in May after 33 years, said he would be willing to go back. “There are a lot of members that want to be part of the fire department so hopefully some of those members will go back,” Rock said.
Denise Coriell, who was on the department for 15 years and led EMS, was relieved LaHart was gone.
“I think it allows the town to move forward,” said Coriell. “It’s to be seen how the town wants to progress with any of the people who were fired, let go or dismissed or resigned.”
Coriell was one of 13 members of Killington Search and Rescue (KSAR) who left the department in March after an uproar with LaHart and his wife Leslie. Coriell is one of three women who filed harassment complaints against LaHart.
Former search and rescue team members joined Rescue, Inc., in May while LaHart attempted to form his own search and rescue team with new volunteers in June. Coriell said the former KSAR team is unlikely to return to the fire department, though she hopes a new fire chief in Killington will be willing to work with Rescue, Inc. on calls.
“I don’t hold grudges, but I’m hoping the townspeople are able to work together and move forward,” Coriell said. “I think we would be happy to have the Killington area back in our call range without having any difficulties with that.”