Fire chief Ken Morton retiring

Fire Chief Ken Morton is in his final few weeks leading the Williston Fire Department. Morton plans to retire this summer after nearly 40 years with the department, 28 years as chief. 

Morton has worked as a firefighter for nearly five decades, starting as a freshman at Norwich University in 1972. 

In Williston, he has presided over an expansion and advancement of the department to keep pace with the growing community. 

“When I began serving with the fire department, Williston had two traffic lights, 11 farms, zero box stores, zero senior housing facilities, zero buildings over two stories tall and responded to 104 calls,” Morton said in a press release. “Suffice it to say, much has changed these past 38 years.

“As Williston has grown, the department has changed to meet the needs of the community,” he continued. “As I leave the position of fire chief, I am proud to report that Williston is served by an excellent cadre of career and on-call paid firefighters and emergency medical technicians, operating out of a great facility with up-to date equipment. I thank the town administration and the taxpayers for allowing the department to become the fine organization it is.”

Morton is one of three long-tenured town leaders stepping down this year, joining Town Manager Rick McGuire and Town Clerk Deb Beckett.

Morton had originally planned to retire at the end of June. He stayed on longer to allow the town to hire a new town manager to replace McGuire. McGuire’s successor, Erik Wells, will now lead the recruitment process for a new fire chief.

As of last month, the town had seven applicants for the job. A new chief is expected to be hired by the end of the summer. 

The Williston Fire Department has grown from an all on-call force to a current staff of 16 career firefighters and 16 on-call members during Morton’s tenure. The department began an emergency medical service in 2000, taking over for the private, non-profit Iroquois First Response. In 2010, the department added ambulance transport service, and now provides paramedicine-level care to the community of roughly 10,000 residents.

Morton also oversaw the construction of a new fire station, completed in 2007, and the modernization of the department’s vehicle fleet, including the addition of two ambulances. 

The department now responds to over 2,000 emergency calls each year, up from just over 100 when Morton joined as an on-call firefighter.

“It has been a pleasure working with Chief Morton,” McGuire said. “He has been a strong force in advocating for his department so that the fire department is in position to provide quality service to the Williston community. Chief Morton is well respected throughout the fire and EMT service community in Vermont and beyond. He lives and breathes all things related to fire service, and his private collection of fire trucks is testament to that fact.”   

The retiring chief has also made an impact on his colleagues throughout the state.

“Chief Morton has been a leader in Vermont fire service, serving as a mentor to many and a friend to all,” said Steve Locke, fire chief for the City of Burlington. “He leaves a void that will be tough to fill and a legacy that is tough to follow. His many accomplishments transforming the Williston Fire Department have been remarkable to watch, and I wish him the best of luck in his retirement.”