What’s old is new

Hinesburg Fire Department celebrates 75, members dig deeper into their past

Clockwise from the top: Hinesburg firefighters wave from the top of Hinesburg’s old Engine One. Ed Burleigh, Huber Taft, Erie Mead, Manuel Bassonette and Ralph Harvey on the Model T fire truck. Hinesburg Fire Chief Al Barber stands next to Assistant Chief David Estey. Charlotte’s Marine 3 made an appearance at the parade. Lt. Governor David Zuckerman is a Hinesburg resident and farmer. He and his daughter ride in the parade on his tractor. Joseph Giroux is excited to see the fire trucks ascend down the hill on Route 116 through town. He came to the parade with his parents, who were born and raised in Hinesburg. Smokey the Bear greeted some kids at one of the Blodgett parties hosted by the department. Charlie LaBelle, the first Hinesburg Fire Chief, stands next to Engine One.

Over 50 fire trucks rumbled through Hinesburg Saturday.

No, they weren’t rushing to a major fire.
Instead, firefighters from all over Chittenden and Addison counties came to celebrate 75 years of the Hinesburg Fire Department.

People gathered on sidewalks to watch trucks, floats and even the Charlotte Rescue boat Marine 3 drive through town. And the festivities did not end after the parade. Hinesburg Fire Department hosted a celebration to commemorate the department’s 75 years of service.

“Fire departments share,” Al Barber said. “Usually you don’t get a lot of the good times together, but this is the time we get to.”

All of the departments that participated in the celebration have been mutual aid partners with Hinesburg during the departments’ history.

As far as age for fire departments in Vermont, Hinesburg is in the middle, Chief Al Barber said. Seventy-five years might seem like a long time, but in reality it’s only four generations of fire chiefs. Barber has been on the department for 39 years, and been chief for 19.

The oldest members of the department — Paul Emmons and Brad Wainer — have been on the department for 51 and 52 years, respectively.

But the department’s history had only gone back as the oldest members remember. It wasn’t until the department began planning the 75-year anniversary that historical details began to emerge.

Barber’s wife Diane started looking into the department’s history but at first that search proved less than fruitful. So she reached out to community members to collect photos and read through old town documents to find department-related information.

Before 1943 the department was a private, unofficial group.

A series of fires at the Hinesburg cheese plant prompted the owners to contract with Burlington Fire Department for services. That’s when a group of Hinesburg residents organized as a firefighters association. It was 1943.

The earliest line item on a town budget for any fire department equipment was April that year, for a fire truck rental from A. St. Allaire for $45. Fire department expenditures in the budget that year totaled $306.08.

“I’m not sure the townspeople paid for that,” Diane Barber said, expressing her confusion over how the budgets were written back then.

Fire department budgets grew over the years as the town’s need for a fire department grew. Department members remember yearly “Blodgett Parties,” a summer party that raised a majority of the departments’ funding, up until the late 1990s.

Then the fire department became a municipal department, with its own budget. This year Hinesburg voters allocated $317,122 for the department.

Diane Barber found many photos from those parties, and other fire department activities, in a drawer at the department just in time to put them all together for the celebration.

Al Barber enjoyed looking into the old documents, like the 1945 bylaws of the Hinesburg Fireman’s Association, which provided strict rules for department members.

Moving forward
The Hinesburg fire department has grown over the years as the community has grown. Today Barber sees the need for a larger station.

“We can’t have everyone in here for trainings,” Barber said, laughing at the irony. “It’s not allowed by the fire code.”

There are 52 volunteers for fire and rescue.

Over the past 19 years since Barber has been chief he’s seen a lot of changes. The fire department merged with Hinesburg First Response in 1999. With new technology, members are able to get calls more quickly, and department receives more calls.

“There used to never be two calls at once, now it’s fairly common,” Barber said. The record number of calls in one day is nine, on a regular day three to four calls is normal.

The department’s strategic plan includes purchasing an ambulance, which will hopefully make enough money to cover most of the expenses the department foresees. There is talk of a new building, depending on how budgets and capital projects go in the next few years. He also sees the need for a few fulltime emergency medical service (EMS) workers.

Currently police officers are trained to go to medical calls, but the growing list of calls for both police and rescue are proving challenging.

After the parade, Barber told the crowd at the fire department to sign in, so the historical society could preserve who was there that day, to continue collecting department history for the next big anniversary party.

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