The large photo above the headlines shows President Lorraine Sterritt trying on firefighter gear during her visit, helped by Fire Chief Erik Haversang; directly above, the logo on a fire truck, close-up; descending...left, Rescue Chief Leslie Lindquist and the president chat in an ambulance; Public Safety Director Doug Babcock in the Dispatch area; a fire truck ride; the group chats in the firehouse, including Kristin Stainton '20 at left, Bert Lain back right, and Community Relations VP Pat Gallivan with Sterritt, Haversang and Lundquist. (Photos by Ethan Simmons)
Saint Michael’s College’s new President Lorraine Sterritt has spent much of her initial time on the job touring campus, meeting students, staff, and faculty, and truly getting to know her new community. “We’re neighbors,” she joked with Fire and Rescue staff and volunteers on Wednesday afternoon when she arrived with her husband, Bert Lain, for a tour of the facilities. It was a mix of fun, games, and business as the firehouse was alive with both laughter and serious conversation.
Built in 2005, the Robert E. Sutton Fire and Rescue Station is practically next door to Reiss House, the couple’s new home just across Route 15 from central campus. The station is outfitted with bunks, study areas, and a full kitchen for volunteers on duty as well as a training room, offices, and a bay housing two fire engines, two ambulances, and a squad truck.
But the Fire and Rescue program has been in place since long before these impressive, modern facilities were built. It began in 1969, when the death of a Saint Michael’s student awaiting emergency care on campus inspired his classmates and community members to fund-raise and establish rescue facilities operated by the college. The Fire Unit soon followed and is now a battalion of the Colchester Center Volunteer Fire Company, the busiest volunteer fire department in Vermont. Today, the two units at Saint Michael’s College serve the larger community, including the cities of Colchester and Winooski, and frequently respond to incidents along Route 89. The Fire Unit responds to an average of 650 calls annually, while the Rescue Unit responds to about 2,000. Both are staffed 24 hours every day all week long.
President Sterritt and her husband were guided through the facility by Rescue Chief Leslie Lindquist and Battalion Chief Erik Haversang of the Fire Unit. They also spoke with Doug Babcock, director of the Public Safety Department housed on the other side of the building. President Sterritt got first-hand accounts of the day-to-day duties and concerns of all three.
“It’s definitely one of a kind,” Haversang said of the program. Sterritt mentioned being surprised to see a St. Mike’s ambulance in Colchester while visiting campus a few months ago during the presidential search, as well as bragging to friends and family in recent weeks about the College having its own Fire and Rescue program. She learned during her tour that this type college-operated emergency response team of both fire and medical response units, serving both on- campus and in the community, is a rare thing.
“Students love it because they get so much experience,” said Lindquist. Dedicated student and alumni volunteers alike are getting real, high-intensity experience as professional emergency response workers, she explained. Sterritt met and spoke with some of those who choose to spend their summers on the job as well. Many of those from the Rescue squad shared their plans for medical school and careers in the field.
Sterritt chatted with staff and students, took a look inside a Saint Michael’s Rescue ambulance, and even tried on an iconic firefighters’ bunker gear jacket. The highlight of the afternoon was a ride around campus in one of the fire engines adorned with the Purple Knight logo. Sterritt didn’t hide her excitement, enthusing over the prospect of “taking a ride in the big truck!” -- But not before asking a barrage of important and serious informational questions; what are the weight and mileage of a vehicle like this? Where did the College purchase and outfit these trucks and what was the process like? How do students become certified to operate a fire engine or ambulance and what protocols are in place for their own safety once they’re on the job? It was evident that becoming an informed, involved member of the Saint Michael’s community was priority number one.
“I got to be a child again in terms of the fun I had doing it, but of course I know it’s a very, very serious thing that our students are doing every day, and I’m just extremely impressed,” President Sterritt said. “I had heard about the Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue Departments before I came here and I was telling everybody about how impressive that is. And then to see it all in person was just thrilling.”