May 26, 2018

Heartache, rewards for animal rescue volunteer

Williston woman travels to Gulf Coast to help animals

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

As Cindi Hines watched frequent television images of Hurricane Katrina evacuees being forced to abandon their pets in September, she felt compelled to do something.

It was no longer enough that she and her husband had donated money after the storm to assist those affected by the hurricane, which hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29. Nor was it enough that Hines had volunteered at Vermont Public Radio during their one-day fund-raising drive for Red Cross assistance to affected areas.

“It just kept going on and on and on,” Hines said of the television images, “until I said to (my husband) one day ‘I have to do something more.’”

Hines researched options on the Internet until she found Noah’s Wish, a nonprofit with the sole mission of keeping animals alive during disasters. From Oct. 12–22, she volunteered with the organization at its temporary animal shelter in Slidell, La., about 30 miles northeast of New Orleans.

“My pets are part of my family,” said Hines after returning last week. Hines and her husband, who have lived in Williston for five years, own two Samoyeds, or sled dogs. “I would want someone to look after my guys if something were to happen to me,” she said.

Hines alternately worked at the shelter’s front gate and served on a team that walked dogs and cleaned cages in temperatures that reached 95 degrees in the shade. From 8 a.m.-noon and 3:30-8 p.m. the team attended to the same dogs, ensuring that each dog was walked and had its cage cleaned twice daily. On one day, 586 dogs required attendance.

Hines had scarcely arrived in Louisiana when she realized how slowly the storm clean-up was proceeding, even eight weeks after Katrina hit.

“I called (my husband) in tears almost every night saying ‘I cannot believe the devastation down here,’” Hines said. “People are just returning to their homes now, and finding nothing. It’s dried out now, but their homes are destroyed.”

The Slidell animal shelter continues to take in pets temporarily for returning owners looking for places to live. However, more than 700 of the shelter’s 1,000 animals have not been identified by an owner. Since Hurricane Katrina, Noah’s Wish has cared for more than 1,700 animals in Slidell and St. Tammany parish. Fortunately they did not need to evacuate for Hurricane Rita, which made landfall Sept. 24.

Hines found some happy stories while working the front gate.

One woman, a teacher, told Hines that her neighbor had been to the shelter the day before and thought she’d seen the teacher’s dogs.

When the teacher found her dogs, “she was ecstatic,” said Hines, and the woman’s elementary school-aged children screamed. “The dogs were in the car and the kids were hanging off the dogs,” Hines said. As of mid-October, the organization had reunited 384 owners with their pets.

Some of the assistance Noah’s Wish provided was less dramatic, but noteworthy for Hines. One woman who stopped at the gate had run out of dog food, so Noah’s Wish gave her a supply.

“I had one woman cry in my arms,” Hines said, because the shelter gave the woman cat litter. “They had nothing. Their checks hadn’t come through. They were just waiting.”

Hines acknowledges that it took several weeks to make the decision to go to Louisiana because of fear of the unknown. She had never volunteered with an animal organization, much less after a natural disaster.

“When I got there, I realized I was really meant to go,” Hines said. “Even though I wasn’t a trained volunteer, I did manage to help.”

Hines would have stayed longer if she could, but her husband, her dogs and her job as a process engineer at IBM awaited her return. She does plan, however, to attend a formal training program with Noah’s Wish so that she can assist in future disasters.

Hines said that even without training, it is possible to make a difference in one “little area.” She encourages other Williston residents who have considered volunteering in the Gulf Coast to go.

“If they think they might want to, but they’re a little bit afraid or something, they should go with their instinct that says to go,” said Hines.

[Read more…]

Hats off to Williston fire and rescue

3-year-old gets head stuck in toy container

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Nicholas Gigliotti is really into hats. He’s so into hats, in fact, that he couldn’t get himself out of one last Wednesday.

The Williston 3-year-old and a friend were playing with a birthday present, a tin of wooden building blocks, when he decided to take the toy to another level.

“I was in the same room, but I had my back turned,” said Nicholas’ mother, Laura. “He said ‘look, Mommy, I have a hat.’”

When she turned around, she found that Nicholas had put the tin that contained the toy blocks onto his head.

“I said, ‘that’s a great hat, Nick, but let’s try to get it off,’” Gigliotti said.

When she tried to get the container off her son’s head, she found it was stuck. Each time she tried to pull it off, Nicholas started to get upset, she said.

Concerned that the canister was squeezing his head, she called 911. The dispatcher recommended using soap or oil to try and slide it off, but that didn’t work, she said.

Eventually Williston rescue personnel were dispatched to the home, and Gigilotti and Nicholas went out to wait for the fire trucks to arrive.

She said the rescue team used a type of special shears to cut the metal tin off of Nicholas’ head.

“It was very thick metal,” she said. “But they did get it off, then he burst into tears. Then he got it together and went out to look at the fire trucks.”

Williston firefighters showed Nicholas around the fire trucks and presented him with a new teddy bear.

The entire ordeal was scary, Gigliotti said, but Nicholas is fine. She said he has even joked about the incident with his 6-year-old sister, saying “Sophia, I had a bucket on my head.”

Gigliotti hopes Nicholas has learned his lesson about putting things on his head, but she’s not taking any chances.

“Now I am sort of looking all over the house, saying ‘what else could he get in to?’” she said. “He’s got this thing about hats, but I don’t think we have anything else.”

[Read more…]

Firefighters learn new skills with help from a pro

Chicago fireman leads survival training

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

Firefighters from Williston and nearby departments got a taste last weekend of survival and rescue training, Chicago-style.

Lt. Rick Kolomay of the Shaumberg, Ill., Heavy Rescue Squad Co. 1, traveled to Williston to lead a two-day training exercise in firefighter rescue and survival. Shaumberg is in the Chicago metropolitan area.

“Firefighters have trained for years on how to put out fires,” said Williston fire Capt. Jim Hendry. “It’s only in the last few years that they’ve trained for what to do when something goes wrong.”

Kolomay’s training focused on rescuing firefighters who were incapacitated in some way; self-survival; and how to search for victims in a large area, such as a big-box store. The training took place in a large warehouse at 327 Holly Court, so as to simulate the conditions firefighters might encounter in a large retail store.

“When you have a community like this which has seen a sudden increase in large commercial buildings you really need an opportunity to train in that type of building,” Hendry said.

Kolomay, 48, is the co-author of Firefighter Rescue and Survival, and has led training classes all over the country. He said he has been to Vermont about 10 times, but was especially impressed that Williston was taking such a proactive approach to its training.

“There are not a lot of fire departments like Williston that are requesting this type of training,” Kolomay said. “It keeps them a step ahead of other fire services.”

Williston fire Lt. Bill Gunn said he was glad to have the opportunity to train with Kolomay.

“We haven’t had this kind of training in the six years I’ve been in the department,” Gunn said. “We learned skills for saving ourselves; saving other firefighters; getting out of buildings; skills we hadn’t been able to train before.”

About 24 people attended the training, which was paid for in part by leftover money from a federal grant, Hendry said. The grant also paid for new equipment, such as thermal imagers, rescue air packs and special search ropes. This new equipment was also used during the training, Hendry said,

In addition to the Williston fire department, firefighters from South Burlington, Essex, and Underhill/Jericho fire departments, as well as from the Front of Yonge volunteer fire department in Mallorytown, Ontario, and the Ottawa City Fire Department participated.

[Read more…]

Democrat has eyes on governor

Parker starts campaign early

By Ben Moger-Williams
Observer staff

The only Democrat to enter the race for Vermont governor kicked off his campaign early, with an energetic barn party at the West Monitor Barn in Richmond on Saturday.

Scudder Parker, who has held jobs as a state senator, minister and chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, announced his gubernatorial bid in August, becoming the first challenger to sitting Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.

Sixty-two-year-old Parker was introduced Saturday by a legion of Vermont Democrats, including former governors Philip Hoff and Madeleine Kunin, and House speaker Gaye Symington. In a letter from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy read by his aide Chuck Ross, Leahy said: “Scudder is a man of faith and has faith in Vermont and community. … He has lived Vermont, he understands Vermont, he is Vermont.”

Parker spoke to a crowd of about 400 people who crammed into the recently restored barn off U.S. Route 2. Many state politicians were among the throng of supporters. Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, said he got to know Parker while working on an energy bill that went through the House recently.

“I found him to be not only very knowledgeable in his field, but also a very sincere and good person, which is very important to me,” McCullough said.

During his nearly 40-minute speech, Parker roused the crowd by quoting from the bible; telling anecdotes about his life growing up on his family’s farm in the Northeast Kingdom; and talking about how Vermont needs to elect a new governor.

“You can demand more from your governor,” he said. “You can get more from a governor.”

In his speech, he berated the Douglas administration for failing to provide adequate solutions for health care, energy independence and education issues.

“We are simply not getting the job done,” he said.

Parker said in an interview that he learned a lesson from Peter Clavelle’s unsuccessful gubernatorial bid last election: Start early. Parker said he wants to have enough time to explain all of the issues in depth to voters.

“It’s difficult in a race that starts in May or June to win against a governor who is dictating the shape of the discussion,” Parker said.

The candidate’s unusual first name, Scudder, is actually an old family surname that was converted into a first name because it was going to be lost through a marriage, Parker said. Parker’s father was also named Scudder.

Parker said one thing people may not know about him is that he loves to engage in physical competition. “I love cutting firewood, and I love the things I learned to do on the farm as a kid,” Parker said.

One of the themes that pervade Parker’s orations is his commitment to “ Vermont values.” He seemed to enjoy playing up his Vermont country roots as a campaigning tool. He said of Douglas: “I’ll challenge him to a hand-milking contest any day.”

Parker’s family moved to Danville in 1952. He was an ordained minister from 1969-1990. He served four terms as state senator for Caledonia County from 1981-1988, and most recently has worked for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Liberty Union candidate Peter Diamondstone and Marijuana Party candidate Cris Ericson have also entered the run for governor.

[Read more…]

CSSU Superintendent O

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Chittenden South Supervisory Union (CSSU) Superintendent of Schools Brian O’Regan will step down from his position at the end of the current school year. The CSSU school board accepted his resignation at its meeting last Wednesday.

In a press release issued by the supervisory union office, O’Regan said the decision was for both “personal and professional” reasons, and that he has no immediate future plans. O’Regan has served as superintendent since July, 2000.

“It’s certainly a loss for the community because he’s so good at what he does,” said Jeanne Jensen, chair of the Champlain Valley Union High School board. “He’s not only a great educator and an effective manager, but he’s got an incredible gift of working with people.”

O’Regan’s significant accomplishments during his tenure included centralizing operational activities (human resources, technology) in the supervisory union to free up school administrators so they could focus on student learning. He also facilitated the collaboration of four different town school boards – Williston, Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne – and the high school board to align curriculum and expectations.

“It makes our K-12 system more effective,” Jensen said. “He really had this vision, and he executed it.”

Referring to O’Regan’s combination of skills, Jensen said “we’re going to have trouble replacing that.”

The process of selecting a new superintendent will be developed by board members in the coming weeks and will be finalized at the CSSU board meeting at Champlain Valley Union High School on Dec. 14.

[Read more…]

Allen Brook Bus Loop Use Suspended

By Kim Howard
Observer staff

Use of a secondary bus loop at Allen Brook School, which a state official called unsafe, has been suspended for the school year. Since the installation of the secondary loop, some students have had to walk between buses to get to their assigned buses.

Stephen Sherrill, traffic investigations supervisor with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, told the Williston Observer last month that any process that requires children to walk between buses while loading or unloading is “ill advised” and “not a safe practice.”

The change to the system occurred about a week ago in response to a study that school officials have been conducting since October, according to school principal John Terko.

Through a bus rider study, Terko said officials found that one bus could be eliminated. “The numbers were low and the change made sense,” he wrote in an email.

The elimination of one bus enabled the school to move some bus parking spots for afternoon pick-ups. As a result of the parking shifts, a gravel driveway – functioning as a secondary bus loop – which cuts across the main bus loop will not be needed for the rest of the school year. The gravel drive had allowed for more flexibility for bus parking given varied afternoon bus arrival times to the school, according to Terko.

The Development Review Board last month expressed concerns about the safety of the secondary bus loop, which was not shown on site plans during the original permit approval process. Development Review Board chair Kevin McDermott said he is unable to comment about the most recent change in the bus loop without seeing it.

Terko indicated the elimination of one bus run, which led to the changes in bus loading, coincided with a bus driver on an extended medical leave. The change was not in response to the state official’s comments, he said.

Sarah Hibbeler, mother of an Allen Brook second grader, said her impression is that parents didn’t know they should be concerned about school bus loading prior to learning of the state official’s comments.

“I certainly didn’t have any concerns” Hibbeler said. “But I didn’t have any knowledge of how things were being done,” she said, noting that she is not at school during bus loading.

Hibbeler said she is confident the administration is addressing the concerns that have been raised. “I do feel that the school administration is very responsive when issues are brought to their attention,” she said.

Though the timing of the change was not related to the concerns raised several weeks ago, said Terko, “as long as we keep safety first, this change is safe and a good thing for our kids.”

Terko is not yet certain of the cost savings from the bus reduction, but said, “It is important to us that we be efficient in how we operate.”

Students on the eliminated bus were redistributed onto two other buses that travel close to their homes.

The secondary bus loop was one of several safety concerns raised by the Development Review Board in response to the school’s application for a new permit to extend the use of trailers functioning as temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School. The trailers were installed three years ago in response to overcrowding. The Development Review Board is scheduled to consider the permit application again at its Nov. 22 meeting.

[Read more…]