Local college students stay to help out St. Michael's Fire and Rescue

COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) A group of young first responders has decided to stay in Vermont while their peers go home, to help the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Michael's Fire and Rescue operates the primary ambulance for Winooski, is a part of the Colchester fire battalion, and serves mutual aid for towns like Essex and Essex Junction.

The volunteer, student-run organization provides fire protection and emergency medical treatment not only on campus but throughout the larger community. The squad says their responsibilities now are more critical than ever before.

"We actually provide a service for the local community that is essential, especially in times like these," says Maxwell Zwiener, a firefighter and EMT from Rhode Island who volunteers with SMFR.

Like all first responders, the EMTs and firefighters are suiting up in protective gear before interacting with citizens. Over their usual uniform, they wear a gown, gloves, and goggles.

"Every time we go out on calls, every time we respond to something, it's certainly a thought in my mind saying, 'Oh, are these people that I'm helping afflicted with the coronavirus?'" said Zwiener.

The students say they're happy to risk their own health and skip the trip to their homes outside Vermont, so they can fulfill their duties in the Green Mountain State. Unlike many college students, they're also sacrificing a social experience.

"I actually was on Spring Break. I went to Carolina. I was called and told that if I didn't get back soon enough, I wouldn't be able to come back and help," said Coline Redeker, a senior at St. Michael's College and the crew chief with SMFR. "I decided to come back and help because of what this organization means to me."

If the students had not raced back to Vermont, the operation would have suffered, and by extension, the community.

"I made a commitment to be here and help out this community. Even though this isn't my home community of Colorado, this definitely has become my community over the last four years," said Redeker.

Amid the pandemic, the tight-knit group of volunteers says they rely on one another for support.

"If anyone's struggling, everyone's there to help out and make sure that everyone's prepared," EMT Morgan Nichols said.

"The next coming weeks, we're definitely going to have to kind of keep that up, because we're going to face some challenges, and there's no way for us to know what they're going to be exactly," says Redeker, "but I know that we're going to get through it and we'll come out stronger."