Jacob Leopold had been volunteering with Team Rubicon USA, a disaster response and recovery organization, when another friend in the group suggested he try something closer to home in the field of emergency medical services.
“He said to volunteer in the town where you live,” Leopold recalled. “So three years ago, I joined Shelburne Rescue.”
This June, the 34-year-old Leopold was elected Shelburne Rescue’s new chief.
Leopold may have been relatively new to the rescue squad when he was promoted, but he has plenty of organizational experience from 10 years of managerial positions at the University of Vermont.
He currently serves as an administrative professional with the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences. “It’s not a one-to-one translation to rescue services,” he said, “but I’ve had a lot of experience helping to lead teams and projects and advance large missions.”
Leopold recognizes that in spite of his title, he is still a junior member of the squad. “I rely on people with vastly more experience to guide me,” he said. “It all comes down to being a team.”
As soon as Leopold joined Shelburne Rescue, he took part in service training and then both beginner and advanced classes in emergency medical training so he could be an active participant on the 30-person squad.
“We provide 365 days of coverage 24/7 and every provider has a shift throughout the week,” he said. “I’m there for at least one 12-hour shift in a response role and available as needed as chief.”
Since he became chief, Leopold believes there hasn’t been a day when he hasn’t been to the station.
Leopold recognizes that this time commitment is one of the things that might keep people from volunteering since in addition to duty hours, there are mandatory trainings and meetings. “It comes down to having an understanding family and friends who realize it’s something you enjoy and adds value to your life and energizes you,” he said.
Leopold is grateful for the chance to help out in his community. “I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in patient care that has saved lives,” he said. “One of the unique experiences is knowing that someone’s life has been saved by your participation.”
While it is gratifying when people come to the station to thank rescue members for their efforts, Leopold said the squad always reminds people that they don’t work alone. “You also need to thank the person who recognized there was an emergency and called 911,” he said.
Originally from Georgia, Vt., Leopold has lived in Shelburne since 2009. He said that growing up, he was surrounded by people who volunteered. Today he sees that ethic waning.
“That’s too bad, because it’s a great way for people to get involved in their communities; either geographic communities or with like-minded individuals. Fire and rescue squads are always open to people willing to make the time commitment. People welcome us into their home in times of need and that’s a unique privilege and a huge responsibility,” he said.
He pointed out that the doors are always open in Shelburne to new volunteers to the town’s fire and rescue squads. “It’s not in our nature to advocate for what we do,” he said, “but we’re always looking for help. It’s good to better your corner of the world every way you can.”