Burlington Firefighters Association calls for action amid recent attacks

Published: Jun. 21, 2022 at 8:37 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 21, 2022 at 8:42 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The Burlington Firefighters Association is calling for action to keep the city’s first responders safe after several recent attacks.

The three incidents are a toolbox being thrown at the windshield of a truck, a medical bag being stolen on a scene and someone trying to actually take Ladder 1 after shoving a responding firefighter.

The Burlington Firefighters Association says more than anything we need to look at what sparks this sort of behavior.

Kyle Blake with the association says while someone attempting to steal a multimillion-dollar truck is scary, the attention should be on the more frequent calls taxing the department, like substance use, public intoxication and mental health calls.

“We only have one option and that is to show up and transport to the emergency department, and that’s not always what people need and sometimes that makes the situation worse,” said Blake.

Blake says they will always go when called, but they aren’t best equipped to handle the calls they are getting.

“Are we the best resource to be sending to these calls? A lot of people will tell you no. We don’t have the tools and we don’t have the resources to handle someone who is in a mental health crisis or substance abuse,” said Blake.

The Burlington Fire Department runs about 8,000-9,000 calls a year. Time-consuming calls like substance use or public intoxication strain resources and can burn out firefighters.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger says the city will continue to pursue those responsible for violent acts against first responders, as well as deploy resources available and attempt to continue to bring more online.

“Certainly at a city level we are doing everything we can to turn this around,” said Weinberger, D-Burlington.

Blake says the Burlington Firefighters Association doesn’t set policy, he just needs the policymakers to understand the load they are carrying.

“We need these resources in place, we need these services in place, but if they are not in place what is another option because what are doing is like being in a hamster wheel where we are just cycling through the same people over and over again,” said Blake.

He says the city needs to determine a direction and decide if it works because it impacts the safety of first responders, and the frustration continues to grow.

The mayor says that one of the solutions they are looking to employ is an increase again in the number of social workers in the city. He says through his proposed budget to the City Council, they would be up to seven.

Blake says the fire department has made their bulletproof vests and helmets more readily available when they are responding to calls.

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