By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
SOUTH HERO -- Kim Julow, who has spent 26 years with the South Hero Volunteer Fire Department, including seven years as its chief, is stepping down this week.
Julow, believed to be only the second woman to serve as a fire chief in Vermont – and the only one currently in the state – did not seek re-election during the recent department elections.
Julow told The Islander that she just believes it is time for somebody else to take the reins of the 67-year old department and she did not want to overstay her welcome.
“The department is in a good place,” she said.
Julow has been at the helm as the department saw a major growth in emergency calls to about 250 fires, accidents and other emergencies a year. The number of volunteers has doubled under her leadership and training also has expanded.
She also was in charge as the department moved in 2018 from three dilapidated buildings in the village into a new five-bay public safety building that is shared with South Hero Rescue off U.S. 2.
Residents showed their strong support for the volunteer department when they overwhelmingly approved a $1.3 million bond for the new building 567-197 in August 2016. Hayward Design Build constructed the 6,234 square-foot energy efficient building – owned by the town -- next to the Champlain Islands Health Center.
Firefighter Mike Bishop, who chaired the facilities committee, said Julow is well respected by the department members for her leadership and knowledge.
“Kim understands this was a people business and without people we would not have a department. Everyone felt they had an open door with her,” Bishop said.
Assistant Chief Patrick Robinson will be moving up to head the department during a low-key installation ceremony Wednesday night.
The fire department does plan to host a large public send-off for Chief Julow once COVID-19 restrictions on crowds are lifted.
Julow is certified as a state fire instructor through the Vermont Fire Academy in Pittsford and offers different classes to various departments and fire schools across the state, Bishop said.
“We want to thank her for her years of service,” Jonathan Shaw, chairman of the Selectboard, said this week.
He noted Julow took over at a time when fire departments were seeing increased regulations and training requirements.
“She was really there for a time of transition,” Shaw said. Julow was effective moving from the old style to the new, he said.
Julow, who also serves as the assistant town clerk and assistant town treasurer, plans to continue in those posts.
Julow said the department is more than fire calls. The department supports community events, including Trunk or Treat at Halloween, the July 4th barbecue and participates in the Christmas Parade.
In a message to community members, Julow wrote, “Words cannot express how much your support of this department over the years has meant to me and all of the members.”
She added, “You attended our events, responded to our fund letters, more generous than I could have imagined, and always had a kind word of ‘Thank You’ when I would see you out in the community,” she wrote.
Julow also thanked department members.
“Through the years there has been joy and sorrow, celebration and mourning, and laughter and tears. The bonds I have formed with you will last a lifetime,” she wrote.
“I have grown as a person, becoming more self-confident in my abilities to achieve my goals and those I set forth for the department. I have supported and been supported by the people in this department, never more than in the last 3 years,” Julow said.
“In the fire service we talk about the ‘brotherhood’ and how the experiences you share make you closer than ever. This department and the people I have served with are my family. The bond we share will never be broken and I will cherish the memories, both good and bad,” the chief wrote.
“I have no doubt this department will continue to grow and serve the citizens of Grand Isle County in the same professional, skilled and caring way you always have. You make me proud every day and I will smile every time I see the trucks go by knowing you are there to help those in need.”