Thursday November 16, 2017
Captain Gary Rounds of the South Burlington Fire Department (SBFD) recently retired as a city servant after 47 years —and one day—on the job. It was a tough decision to walk away from the work he loved, the people he respected and, ultimately, the city of his origin.
Rounds, the son of a lifelong city employee, was born and raised in South Burlington. He was a newspaper delivery boy, a South Burlington student and Rebel athlete, who worked as a meat cutter during his high school years. When an entry-level position became available in the South Burlington Highway department, Superintendent Sonny Audette, offered him the job. At 17, he was too young to drive heavy equipment, so a shovel was his tool of the trade. He worked alongside his father for many years, building the city’s infrastructure and learning the value of hard work and the importance of doing the job right.
In 1970, during his senior year, South Burlington began construction on the fire department, which opened the following year. Rounds and others in the highway department, including his father, were often the first volunteer responders to daytime fire calls. In the mid-1970s, volunteers began to earn pay for on-call duty. Rounds was named Captain of the on-call staff.
At age 24, he applied for a full-time paid position with the fire department. Rounds didn’t land the job, but remained determined, “I told the chief, ‘I’m going to get the next opening … because I’m going to be the most qualified.’”
In 1985, Rounds was hired as a full-time firefighter. “Once I got here,” said Rounds, who took a reduction in pay to transfer, “I knew what I wanted to do.”
Rounds believes being a good firefighter requires a willingness and desire to help people. Training and certifications are requirements of the position, but learning the fire service, he says, is often accomplished on the job.
“Do the job, prove yourself, get respect,” said Rounds, who held everyone equally to high standards. “If you’re going into a building, a burning building, and you’re crawling on your hands and knees with a hose and trying to find someone or find the fire, you want to go in with someone you trust, so that if you get into something, they’ll help you out.”
A brotherhood develops among the department’s three shifts of firefighters and paramedics who clock in for 24 hours on and 48 hours off. Like family, they share meals, watch TV, laugh and celebrate life’s moments.
One of the most painful memories during his tenure was in response to a home fire that claimed the lives of a volunteer firefighter’s wife and four children. “That was a tough fire for everyone,” he said solemnly.
In his distinguished career, the Shift 2 Captain also witnessed and mourned the devastation caused by property loss. “We’re always thankful no one is hurt,” said Rounds, “but you just can’t replace some of the stuff and the memories. They’re just gone.”
“Gary was a great firefighter and fire officer,” says SBFD Chief Doug Brent, who signed on to the department in 2002. “When somebody does a job for as long as Gary has been a firefighter, it’s not a job, it’s a calling.”
Today, Rounds says there are fewer fires and more lives saved due in large part to education and prevention measures, such as installation of home smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Of the approximate 3,600 department responses per year, an estimated two-thirds are medical responses and one-third are fire-related.
Captain Rounds leaves a remarkable legacy to the city and citizens of South Burlington. In the 1990s, he started the junior firefighter program in cooperation with the high school. Students volunteer, with pay, to provide on-call support. Although they cannot enter a burning building, their efforts, which include moving equipment and setting up rehab areas, help the professionals get the job done safely and swiftly. The program, which Rounds’ son Craig joined at age 16, addressed the department’s need for daytime coverage and helped introduce students to a path in community service. “I won’t take credit for what they did,” he said, “but I’ll take credit for them getting the opportunity.”
Rounds also conceived the annual 9/11 Memorial Service at Overlook Park. Every year since the days following the attacks on September 11, 2001, South Burlington residents have gathered to remember and pay their respects.
“Our lives are all too busy,” said Rounds. “We all rush everywhere. I don’t think we reflect on things the way we should, because if we did, I’d like to think some of the stuff going on this country wouldn’t happen.” He continued, “So I think that’s why 9/11 means so much to me. I hope someone here will keep it going in the future. As long as I’m able, I’ll be at Overlook Park on 9/11, even if it’s by myself.”
“Gary’s commitment to his job and dedicated service to the city over these many years has been outstanding,” said Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard. “Gary has always presented himself and represented the city with the utmost respect for his job and professional service to the community. We are grateful.”
“I had a great shift, great guys, very capable,” Rounds stated. “I’m going to miss that camaraderie we have, and I’m going to miss helping people - that’s what drew me to it [firefighting]. I fell in love with it.”
“I will miss Gary most because of his institutional knowledge of all things South Burlington,” Chief Brent said. “He is a true leader because a true leader’s number one lesson is to lead by example. He is the ultimate ‘customer service’ public servant.”
In the late 1980s, Rounds built what he calls a fancy camp on his 67-acre property in Bakersfield that is now his homestead. He enjoys sugaring and plans to serve his new community, perhaps as a volunteer umpire or firefighter or both. From the top of his mountain, where he finds peace, retirement looks good.
Rounds shared, “The city was good to me. I loved coming to work. How many people can say that?”
SOURCE: Lisa Osbahr, Contributor