Jacob Leopold, CEMS’ HR Representative, reflects on his role as Chief of Shelburne Rescue during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences is proud to support our staff members who are serving their community as well as the University of Vermont during this time of need. Jacob Leopold, Administrative Professional in CEMS Human Resources, is doing his part to give back to the town of Shelburne as the Chief of Shelburne Rescue. He shared his perspective about the work he’s doing.

How long have you been Chief of Shelburne Rescue, and what does that look like?

I took over as Chief in June 2018. Shelburne is a third service (separate from Fire) municipal department comprised of forty volunteers and about ten employees. We have an average of eleven hundred 911 calls each year (we do only 911 responses). In my capacity as Chief, I report to the Selectboard and the Town Manager, and have been advising on town operations and COVID planning and continuity of operations. I also serve as the administrative head of the ambulance service and work with the officers to ensure safe and efficient 911 EMS responses for the Town of Shelburne. I also serve as an Advanced EMT leading 911 responses a few times each week.

How did you get involved/what inspired you?

I had been volunteering in Emergency Management and Disaster Recovery and enjoyed helping others. I had long considered being involve in healthcare in some way as my godfather was a doctor and I recall visiting his office growing up. A friend recommended that I try either volunteer EMS or volunteer Fire as I enjoyed the disaster recovery, and because of my interest in science and healthcare started with EMS. I’ve begun cross training for Fire recently as well and love both.

Can you share one interaction or situation that resonates with you about your experience related to the COVID-19 response?

The entire situation, I suppose. Participating in a volunteer service gives you the chance to meet a variety of people, who represent the embodiment of goodness of humanity. Most people who are involved in EMS are really, quite simply, just trying to help. It isn’t any simpler than that. Now add a pandemic and they keep showing up? There is definitely something wrong with us, but thank goodness there is. Many volunteers are afraid. I frequently find myself at the edge of my courage, but it keeps me safe. It keeps me judiciously cautious. One recent interaction has illustrated to me what volunteering in EMS means.

One of my long-term volunteers should be sitting this one out. She is of an age where she has increased risk factors, but she is still volunteering. As I spoke to her on the phone about her considering a leave of absence (which has been offered to all volunteers), she said “sure I’m afraid. I can’t let it cripple me. This is where I belong.” She feels better, being in the ambulance, being on the front line. Taking exceptional risk. It might be the bravest thing I’ve personally experienced in my life and it’s a lesson from a mother of two, a thirty-year-plus EMS volunteer, who is nearing retirement. I want to make every person like that take an LOA, but I they are refusing to step back, and keep signing up for shifts. Those are the types of people saving lives, and helping the sick and injured right now. People who should be retired, people who should be sitting it out.

What is one thing you want to remember about this time?

I am surrounded by the goodness of humankind every day. I’m not worried about forgetting it. That goodness is always there, it’s just getting the recognition it rightly deserves. The should-be or once-were retirees who really should be staying at home. The curmudgeonly ER nurses who don’t have time for nonsense, and will as soon slap you for foolishness as save your life, the sarcastic ER doctors who in one sentence make light of the patient’s situation and get them to smile (ER docs really are quite witty) while continuing essential patient care. The custodians, grocers, letter, and parcel carriers who keep going to work. The first responders (Police, Fire, and EMS), paid and volunteer professionals, who don’t have enough PPE, but will keep showing up to help. Some people are surprised about the goodness of humanity… sure we shouldn’t forget it, but for goodness’ sake, I hope we all remember the filth of greed and selfishness when this is all done. Humanity really can’t be rid of it soon enough. Here’s to hoping!


Geeda Searfoorce