Colchester Rescue Squad

Town of Colchester Emergency Medical Services
627 Blakely Road
P.O. Box 55
Colchester, VT. 03142

(805) 161-2210

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 material incidents.

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 aid training.

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 that craft.

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 "volunteer squad."

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.

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