A History of the Colchester Rescue Squad
The Colchester Rescue Squad (CRS) provides emergency medical
services to the town of Colchester, Vermont. Colchester, with a land area
of approximately 35 square miles and a population of about 17,000, is located
on Lake Champlain in the northwest part of Vermont. Within the town's boundaries
are various ponds and rivers, including Malletts Bay, a 30 square mile
body of water connected to the lake. The town, the fourth most populous
community in Vermont, is located in Chittenden County and near Burlington,
the largest city in the state.
In addition to emergency care and transportation of the
sick and injured, CRS performs technical rock, ice, and water rescue in
the Town and several surrounding communities. CRS also works with the local
fire departments to stand-by at structure fires and to assist at hazardous
Colchester Rescue was formed by a number of Colchester
firefighters who saw the need in the early 1960s for ambulance service
in the town; we were the first volunteer squad formed in this area.
In the beginning... The Malletts Bay Rescue Squad (MBRS)
was founded by the Malletts Bay Fire Department (MBFD) Association in late
1961. MBFD itself was a pioneering organization, formed in the mid-1950s
and one of the first volunteer fire departments in this area. MBFD primarily
covered the Malletts Bay portion of the town.
The first rescue call didn't come until early 1962; there
were 20 calls that year and 33 calls in 1963. Colchester's population at
this time was less than 5,000.
In 1967, the Town purchased a new ambulance for MBRS,
although the MBFD Association still provided day-to-day funding and personnel.
In 1970, the Town of Colchester formally took over funding of MBRS and
the Rescue Squad became a budget line item separate from the fire department.
For the first ten years of MBRS' existence, ambulance
service in Vermont, as well as in most of the nation, was largely of the
"you-maul, we-haul" variety. Most ambulances were converted hearses (for
good cause!). Ambulance attendants and drivers commonly had no formal first
In the early 1970s, a study by a team of Vermont physicians
and emergency health care workers determined that 28% of the fatalities
due to highway accident-related trauma occurred because of inadequate emergency
medical care and transportation of these patients to the nearest hospital.
Cited were the lack of communication between the hospital and the field,
lack of training on the part of ambulance personnel, and inadequate adjunct
equipment in the field.
This report on rural emergency medical services (EMS),
and other reports from around the nation, were part of the stimulus for
the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to formalize EMS plans throughout
this country. The DOT made large sums of seed money available for states
to use in establishing EMS administrations, Emergency Medical Technician
(EMT) training programs, and hospital-ambulance radio communications. Today's
EMT curriculum and Hospital Emergency Ambulance Radio (HEAR) system is
based upon this work that started nearly 20 years ago and has seen a continued
evolution. Several MBRS members attended the first EMT course in Vermont
EMS District #3 (VEMSD #3) in 1972.
In 1977, the squad changed its name from MBRS to the Colchester
Rescue Squad (CRS) (aka Town of Colchester Ambulance) to reinforce to the
community that ambulance service extended to the entire Town, not just
the Malletts Bay area. In fact, the only part of Colchester for which CRS
does not have primary coverage is the Route 15 corridor. Much of that area
was part of the St. Michael's College campus and became the responsibility
of St. Michael's Rescue. We have left it that way because of their generally
faster response time to that area.
By this time, the management and financing of CRS was
under the direction of the Town Manager and Selectboard. Historically,
the director of the squad's day-to-day operations was appointed by the
Chief of MBFD; in fact, the position of Rescue Chief was usually filled
by one of the MBFD Assistant Chiefs. In 1979, the Rescue Chief position
became one filled by appointment by the Town Manager, making CRS a true
Town department; we operated under the direct authority of the Town Manager,
were budgeted by the Town, and had a Department Head appointed by the Town
Manager/Selectboard. By the end of the 1970s, we were responding to approximately
300 calls per year and the Town's population was about 9,000.
In 1980, the squad started to maintain computerized records
using an in-house computer program. The original intent was to minimize
the amount of work needed to generate monthly reports by typewriter; the
result was an early version of the monthly statistics that are printed
today. CRS was the first Town agency, and one of the first rescue squads
in the state, to use a computer for record keeping.
In May 1984, CRS moved from the MBFD fire station on Church
Road to our current quarters on Blakely Road (although the building at
the time only comprised the living and sleeping quarters and front half
of the ambulance bays). This positioned us near the geographic center of
Town so, like the town offices and Police Department, we were better able
to serve the community as a whole. Later that year, the independence of
CRS became complete when we adopted the current organizational patch and
acquired our own radio frequency, independent of the fire departments.
In 1986, CRS placed a second ambulance in service, so
that for the first time we owned two Type I modular ambulances; in prior
years, a van owned by MBFD was used as a backup ambulance. Later in the
year, CRS was licensed as a Defibrillation-level ambulance service, the
highest level of care available in this part of the state at the time.
During the 1986-1987 period, the volume of rescue calls jumped significantly
to approximately 600 calls per year, the level we continued to maintain
until 1996, when annual call volume started to exceed 700. The Town's population
has grown from about 12,000 in the mid-1980s to about 17,000 today.
In the Fall of 1990, CRS started the Rescue Dive Team
in cooperation with the Police Department and Harbormaster. All CRS members
on the Dive Team are required to be active members of rescue, certified
at the ECA or EMT level; this requirement is in place to maintain a focus
on our primary mission of providing emergency medical services to the Town.
By 1991, we acquired a small surplus van to carry technical rescue equipment,
as well as a small inflatable Zodiak motorboat. In 1992, construction of
an addition to our building provided us with the additional garage space
necessary to store the van and boat, as well as a new training room.
During budget hearings in 1992, the Selectboard agreed
with the MBFD request to obtain a watercraft that could be used as a public
safety boat for fire and dive team/water rescue operations, although the
dive team had been working with the Harbormaster for several years. That
boat was obtained in 1995 and several CRS members are trained to pilot
On the emergency medical front, VEMSD#3 started a pilot
endotracheal (ET) intubation project in 1995, and about a half-dozen CRS
members were charter participants in that effort. At about the same time,
the state adopted the new EMT-B (Basic) curriculum and new EMTs were trained
in automatic external defibrillation (AED) techniques. In 1997, "old" EMTs
started taking transition courses to become EMT-B certified. By early 1998,
all EMT members of CRS were certified as EMT-Bs and able to use AED, and
the manual defibrillation certification (EMT-D) abandoned.
As call volume started to significantly increase during
the mid- to late-1980s, one trend became of great concern; namely, the
largest growth in calls was during the Monday-Friday daytime when we had
no set crew on duty. We started to see a noticeable degradation in our
level of service during those hours in terms on an increasing average response
time, decreasing percentage of calls with an IV-certified EMT available,
and an increasing number of calls for which we could not even muster a
crew (necessitating us to turn the call over to another service, thus,
even more increasing the response time). Since the late-1980s, we had been
asking the Selectboard to fund the hiring of one or two paid EMTs to run
during the daytime; in 1998, we received such funding to start in July
of that year. We actually hired our first full-time EMT for daytime coverage
in November, 1998 and hired a second February, 1999 and then a third in 2000.
CRS has been a wholly-volunteer
squad since our inception in 1961, so the hiring of even one full-time
person marked the end of an era and did not happen without a certain amount
of (legitimate) angst and consternation within the squad. But, it also
signifies our commitment to providing the highest level of emergency medical
care within our service area... and we still consider ourselves to be a
CRS has been a pioneering, forward-looking organization
since its inception. We are one of the oldest ambulance services in the
Chittenden County area and possibly the oldest volunteer squad, a tribute
to the members of MBFD who founded us over 30 years ago. We participated
in the very first EMT courses in Vermont. We adopted the use of many new
technologies early on, such as pagers, portable radios, medical anti-shock
trousers (MAST), intravenous (IV) therapy, Doppler monitors, cardiac monitors,
defibrillators, and ET intubation. We were one of the first to formalize
a first- responder system, use a computer to track our activity and training
(using programs developed in-house), form a Junior Member Program, and
provide Hepatitis B inoculations. Our Technical Rescue Team is recognized throughout
the state for its work in water and ice rescue emergencies, as well as other
hazardous terrain rescues. In addition to providing better and faster emergency
medical care, we have, by sharing our experiences throughout the district,
helped prove the usefulness of much of this equipment and many of these
programs in the field.
Gary C. Kessler
July 29, 1995
(Updated: December 2005)
My hope is that this document will grow as a living record
of CRS. If anyone wants to add recollections or other information, make
corrections, suggest deletions, etc., please let me know.