Over Din of a Busy Work Day, UVM Rescue Dedicates New Facility
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
The most persuasive testimony that UVM Rescue’s new $1.4 million headquarters is sorely needed came not from the cast of university leaders and alumni who spoke eloquently of its importance at the building’s recent dedication but from the commotion that periodically drowned them out.
Four times during the proceedings speakers were interrupted – by crackling radio calls to the group’s dispatch center and by two transport helicopters that landed on a nearby helipad, pressing both UVM Rescue ambulances into service – and could only stare helplessly at the audience over the din.
Even on this day of celebration, UVM Rescue was hard at work.
Thanks to the newly finished facility, planned for five years and under construction since May, that work will soon be made easier.
UVM Rescue’s old digs, located in a boxy, cramped addition to UVM Police Services headquarters on East Avenue built in 1975, had become inadequate in innumerable ways.
Its one ambulance bay was too small to accommodate modern ambulance design, so UVM Rescue had to custom order its vehicles, adding to their cost. Its second ambulance was parked outside, no picnic for students during the winter months. Training sessions, near continuous in the rescue field, were held in any open space – even the laundry room. And students slept wherever there was room, “sometimes on a stretcher,” said senior microbiology major Kelly Baillargeon, the group’s director.
The new headquarters, located a stone’s throw from the old facility on the south end of the 284 East Avenue parking lot, is a vast improvement. It boasts two large ambulance bays in a heated garage, two bunk rooms with four beds each, a common room where volunteers can train, wait for calls and eat, a large kitchen with modern appliances, two bathrooms with showers, a conference/study room, a work-out area, and laundry and supply storage space.
“The new building will provide students more opportunity to train, prepare for emergencies and finally have a facility that reflects the organization,” said Zach Borst, UVM's emergency manager and the group's advisor.
"It will also be a huge recruiting tool," he said. The squad recently begun staffing its second truck during major emergencies on campus or in the greater Burlington area. "They can now keep both ambulances stocked and ready inside the station, something they have never been able to do in the past," Borst said.
No ordinary student club
If a million-dollar plus building with decent amenities seems extravagant for a student club, that’s a basic misunderstanding of who UVM Rescue is.
In its early years, the group’s mission was important but circumscribed; it largely served only the campus.
But over the years, “the importance of UVM Rescue to the greater Burlington community has grown, and the size of the squad group grew,” said UVM’s associate vice president for administrative and facilities services Bill Ballard, an alumnus of UVM and UVM Rescue and the club’s advisor for 25 years.
Today UVM Rescue remains the first-response unit for the UVM campus but serves as back-up for many other communities. It responded to 1,600 calls last year and made 1,200 transports, making it one of the busiest ambulance squads in the state.
The group “is absolutely an integral part of Emergency Medical Service” in Chittenden County, said Phil Holt, a member of Richmond Rescue who attended the dedication. “They respond to our service area when we’re out of service call and need coverage. They know their stuff, and they work really hard.”
“The citizens of Burlington rely on them,” added Burlington fire chief Steve Locke, another attendee. “We couldn’t do it without them.”
UVM president Tom Sullivan, one of the speakers at the event and an advocate for the new facility from the first days of his presidency, had an inside track on the contribution UVM Rescue makes, not only to the community, but to the students who serve in it. His nephew was a member of the group.
"He speaks so highly of UVM Rescue,” Sullivan said. “Every time he comes back to Burlington, the first place he comes is right here. My wife Leslie and I had drunk the Kool-Aid before I got here.”
Alumni of UVM Rescue have stellar track records, Ballard said. Many have gone on to careers in the health professions.
Charm -- to a point
The old facility had its charms, according to UVM Rescue veterans, but only to a point.
“There was a lot of camaraderie,” said Ned Rimer, ’83, a professor in Boston University’s business school, who served in UVM Rescue all four of his years at UVM. “We made meals for each other and we got to know each other really well.”
“But having an adequate place to sleep and study and train? That would have been huge. I’ve been dreaming of this day for 37 years.”
For Baillargeon, move-in – scheduled for over next two weeks as furniture arrives – can’t come too soon.
“The whole squad is just so ready,” she said. “As one of the speakers said, we would all sleep on the floor just because everyone is so ecstatic to have this kind of structure here.”
UVM Rescue is self-funding through payments made for its services. The new building will be paid for through a combination of private gifts and both past and future revenues generated by the service.