Barbara Baker served as EMT, led women’s auxiliary
By MICHELLE MONROE
ALBURGH – Barbara Baker has supported the Alburgh Volunteer Fire Department for close to 50 years. On Saturday, the community came together to thank her, presenting her with the 2020 Support Specialist of the Year award from the Vermont State Firefighters Association (VSFA).
Alburgh Fire Chief Ron Kumetz said that when he suggested nominating Barb “rarely was an idea met with such enthusiasm.”
Gathering the information for the nomination was a challenge, however, given the number of years Barbara had been part of the department. So to get information on her early years with the department, he called her and claimed to be writing a history of the department.
Bailee Goodell assembled the information into a nomination letter, citing Baker’s years as an emergency medical technician (EMT), her leadership of the Alburgh Women’s Auxiliary, and dedication to the North Country Fire School.
“Through many changes in leadership and circumstance, Barb has exemplified our mission as a department, has positively impacted the community, and has consistently supported the Alburgh Volunteer Fire Department. Her skills, knowledge, willingness to help others, and dedication to supporting the fire department makes her our Support Specialist of the Year nominee,” Goodell wrote.
The award was presented by Timmy Gerard and Brent Labree, representing the VSFA.
“I’d like to thank everybody,” said Baker. “I’m blown away. I know there are a good many others who are deserving of this award.”
In addition to the award itself, she was presented with letters of congratulations from Governor Phil Scott, Representative Peter Welch, and Senators Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders, as well as a framed copy of the nomination letter.
Christopher Herrick, Deputy Commissioner of Public Safety, met Baker when he attended the training offered each summer by the North Country Fire School. “I was assured the training would be good and the food even better,” said Herrick. The food preparation was led by Baker.
“You were a fixture,” Herrick said. “To say the school wouldn’t have functioned without you is an understatement.”
“You’re a true leader and an inspiration,” he told Baker. “We need more people like you.”
The Alburgh fire department was founded in 1968. Baker’s husband Dick joined soon after. It was his volunteerism which inspired her to get involved with the department. She both wanted to contribute as he was and spend more time with him.
When Alburgh added a rescue service in the early 1970s, Barbara and Dick were among the first members of the community to become trained as EMTs.
Barbara did her EMT training in 1972 and continued to serve until 2013 or 2014. She couldn’t remember the exact year arthritis forced her to stop.
“I loved being an EMT, and it bothered me when I couldn’t do it anymore,” she told the Islander.
Asked about calls from her time as an EMT, Baker said, “There are some sad ones that I don’t want to get into.”
“The best one was we delivered a baby,” she added.
Baker was a co-founder of the auxiliary, and she has served as its president for the past 30 years. “It started with the wives,” she said. Women weren’t allowed in the department, but they wanted to bring food and water to their husbands at fire scenes. Then it expanded to raising funds.
The auxiliary held a Bingo night every week. Appropriately, Baker’s award was presented at the Bingo hall.
When Baker joined the town clerk’s office as an assistant – she would later serve as town clerk and treasurer – she made certain that if there was a fire call she would be allowed to go.
Weekday calls can be a challenge for a volunteer department, explained longtime Alburgh firefighter Terry Tatro, as many firefighters are at work. Even though she wasn’t a member of the department, which didn’t admit women, she was riding in the truck. “We had to make her a member,” said Tatro.
Once she was a member, Baker said she still kept to assisting with hoses and other tasks that did not involve going into a burning building. “Grass fires, I’d fight,” she said.
Baker wasn’t the first female member of the department. That honor fell to one of her daughters.
Barbara and Dick had six children and nearly every one has been involved with either firefighting or rescue services. A granddaughter is currently a firefighter in the Air Force.
“He inspired ‘em all,” Baker said of her husband.
Dick also helped to fund the North Country Fire School, which trains firefighters from Vermont, New York and Quebec. Barbara would eventually join the board. Training together helped with camaraderie among the departments, she said.
On Saturday, Canadian members of the school watched the award presentation on Zoom.
There was one thing Baker wanted to be sure everyone knew. “Just remember,” she said, “all of those things I didn’t do alone.”