Thursday October 18, 2018
It wasn’t the first annual South Burlington Firefighters and EMT Awards Recognition Dinner, but it was the first Pat Nowak Memorial Dinner at Trader Duke’s on Oct. 11.
It was the first firefighters dinner without Nowak, a beloved city councilor and driving force behind the event, who died in March after a long battle with cancer at the age of 72.
The event was marked by speeches and awards, with thanks from Acting Chief Terry Francis to his family and all of the other firefighter’s families for their support.
Longtime former Fire Chief Doug Brent was honored for his service to the South Burlington Fire Department. Brent is the longest-serving fire chief in Vermont, and put in 16 years in South Burlington before he retired earlier this year.
And Nowak was there in spirit, with many speakers mentioning her by name and relating stories of her civic and personal accomplishments. Her daughter, Alison Cossette, took to the podium to thank firefighters and emergency medical technicians for helping her family and so many others.
“What I want to talk about tonight is the calls where there isn’t smoke and fire,” she said. “The calls where the people can’t breathe, and they can’t leave their homes, and you guys come in in the most tender of moments in our lives and in the families in this community, and you see us at our most vulnerable, and when we’re not always our best. But you bring with you a sense of dignity and caring that really needs to be acknowledged.”
Cosette told the story of the first time her family called the ambulance for her ailing mother last winter.
“She was having a hard time breathing, and she didn’t want to come out until she got her lipstick on,” Cossette said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd. “And you guys were also there the last time my mother left her home, and you escorted her to the hospital, and you were there at the funeral home, and you were also there standing outside the cemetery as she was finally laid to rest.”
Cosette thanked the firefighters for being there for her family and so many others in South Burlington.
“On behalf of our family and my mom, thank you so much for being there for all of us in those moments, those really tender, vulnerable moments when it takes a really special person to do the job that you do. We are eternally grateful for the role that you play in our lives and in all of the families that live in this community. Thank you very much.”
Francis said he is committed to maintaining the high standards set by Brent for his department.
“We need the very best from our people, and we expect the very best,” he said. “We want the best possible contact you can have on the worst day of your life.”
South Burlington firefighters belong to the Local L3671 chapter of the Professional Firefighters of Vermont firefighters union. Capt. Micah Genzlinger is the union representative for the department and gave out new hats to the membership. In his remarks, he thanked the families.
“We couldn’t do this without you,” he said.
Brent was honored with a brass firefighter’s speaking trumpet, which Francis explained is a tradition dating back over 200 years. The trumpet was used in during the 19th century so fire chiefs could be heard by their firefighters on scene.
“This is so when Doug speaks, those of us who are smart enough will listen,” Francis said.
In his remarks, Brent said he signed up to be a firefighter in 1970 because he “wanted to help people”.
“If I could do it all over again tomorrow, I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said.
Brent discussed the effect of cumulative stress on firefighters and EMTs, and how they need support in and out of the firehouse. He also talked about how he tried retirement for about six weeks and “got a good taste of it” before he was asked to help sort out some issues with the Barre Fire Department, where one person had been hired to be the police chief and the fire chief.
Brent also thanked his family “for always being there”.
“We’ve talked a lot about families tonight,” he said. “They’ve always been there for me, they’ve always been willing to move around with me, and anytime I can thank you, I will.”
In closing, Brent said that he “always tried to leave a place just a little better than when I took over, and I hope I have done that. Thank you.”
SOURCE: Lee Kahrs, The Other Paper