The Burlington Rescue Squad responds to a auto crash on Highway P in this file photo. The squad is currently in talks with the city and town of Burlington fire departments regarding a possible merger that would address volunteer staffing issues. (Photo by Ed Nadolski)

Discussions with fire departments are in infancy

By Jason Arndt


Within the last few years, EMS Chief Brian Zwiebel of Burlington Rescue Squad has seen an exponential increase in calls, which presents a challenge for his department.

The need for more volunteers, according to a BRS news release, compounds this challenge.

“In more recent years the demand for emergency medical services has continued to increase at an exponential rate in our community,” the release states. “This is due in part to the demographics of an older population, who by nature need more medical services taking up residence in Burlington.”

Burlington Rescue Squad, which covers the city and town of Burlington, has responded to nearly 1,600 calls of service per year.

While the calls have increased, Burlington Rescue Squad has reported a shrinking roster of volunteers, leaving the nonprofit organization to begin discussions about merging with the City of Burlington Fire Department.

The discussions started last week after the Common Council mulled the decision in a closed session on April 3.

“We, as members of Burlington Rescue, have prided ourselves on the quality of service we have been able to provide with our brothers and sisters in the Fire/EMS community,” Zwiebel said in a news release.

“We will continue to do that on a consistent basis. These talks are a preliminary step to ensuring the safety and viable future of EMS and Fire services in our community.”


Volunteer crunch

On Monday, Zwiebel said his department has about three volunteers ready to respond during daytime peak hours, but could use up to six in case Burlington Rescue receives back-to-back calls.

Each squad has a minimum of two volunteers.

“We need more personnel, we are not getting it and we are not getting people to volunteer to do it,” he said.

Last fall, the City of Burlington Fire Department agreed to help by hiring some Burlington Rescue Squad volunteers as temporary volunteers to cover Friday evenings along with weekend shifts.

Since then, Fire Chief Alan Babe said the city has not seen any applications.

“We were approached in late fall 2018 by the Board of Burlington Rescue to see if we could come up with an agreement to be able to find additional staff for Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.,” Babe said. “We ran an ad through our Human Resources (department) and we didn’t get any applications.”


Community collaboration

Burlington Rescue Squad and the City Fire Department, meanwhile, have discussed the matter with Town of Burlington officials and their fire department about the potential merger.

The negotiations involve conversations about continuing to use as many volunteer hours and personnel as necessary while showing diligence in use of taxpayer dollars.

The first step includes the City Fire Department upgrading its service provider level from First Responder to the Advanced Emergency Medical Technician to match the current license held by BRS.

Mayor Jeannie Hefty, a longtime Burlington Rescue Squad member, said early negotiations have been positive.

Hefty has spoken with Town Chairman Ralph Rice and assured him the town will continue to be served through any combination of the A-EMT Service.

Babe, agreed, adding everyone involved in the negotiations looks to find a positive resolution.

“What you have for years is two separate entities, even though we are under the same roof, people don’t understand and think we are one big department,” Babe said. “We’ve got to do this in the fashion that is amicable for both.”

Burlington Rescue Squad, a 501c3 nonprofit organization, has served the town and city of Burlington since 1946.