As a college sophomore, Hornat quickly discovered the harsh realities of being a firefighter under Chief Don Sutton’s wing. Training to save lives in dense smoke was the most frightening experience he had up to that point in his life. “I really thought I was going to die,” Hornat said.
This year marks the 50th Annual Saint Michael’s College Fire & Rescue Banquet to happen on March 28. Edmundite Father Ray Doherty is a member of Fire & Rescue’s Board of Directors. He will be speaking at the prayer service before the banquet. He said he appreciates the selfless devotion of the student members who willingly make big sacrifices to serve people in need. “Fire & Rescue students, past and present, are the best, and are well-deserving of our admiration and gratitude,” he said.
“I was so proud of our work with neonatal transport,” Sutton said. “We did it at great expense to us. We did a lot of begging and borrowing. We made it happen.”
Hoar said Edmundite Brother Frank Hagerty was a real powerhouse and had a significant role with the transport team. “He is an unsung hero,” he said.
Hagerty was highly involved with rescue early on. He took a first aid course in the second semester of his freshman year at Saint Michael’s College. He worked as a nursing assistant in Selma, AL, during the summertime and was on the rescue crew during the school year. He went on to obtain a BS in nursing from The University of Vermont. He served on rescue from 1971 to 1976 and after five years in Venezuela, he was back on rescue again from 1981 to 1989.
“Right from the beginning it was student run and it was so impactful,” Hagerty said. “Not only with on-the-job training and emergency medical care, but also with our leadership skills.” He served as training officer for two years and captain of the rescue unit for one year.
Hagerty said the department came out of the 60s and 70s movement of volunteerism and altruism. “This was very important to people,” he said. “There was a need. We were busy.”
Sutton remembers the military draft and turmoil on campus when he and a few others started a safety committee that led to the birth of Fire & Rescue. “It was a divisive time,” Sutton said. “There was a need to have something for students to get involved in. There was a need to try to create a better atmosphere on campus, which we have done at Saint Mike’s through the help of the Church and their work. The Edmundites are important for the college. I have seen what they do. They reach out where it is needed most and make the world a better place.”
Hoar remembers the era when Saint Michael’s Fire & Rescue began as well. “Those were the days of rage,” he said. “It was a transitional time in our history. At Saint Mike’s, Don helped many of us make that transition through his innate ability to relate to people.”
The Austin Hall blaze was their first big fire call. This building in the center of Saint Michael’s campus served as the theater, radio station, ROTC and the dining hall. It was a total loss that winter night of 1971 in the freezing cold, Hornat said. He remembers it was the first time he ever managed a fire hose. “I got a quick lesson and started spraying water on the building and the hose broke. It was flopping around all over the place. There was ice everywhere and we were slipping.”
Sutton found Hornat another hose. This time there was another problem. “Don came over and told me I had to bring the hose down because I had arched it to such a point that the Winooski firefighters on the other side of the building were getting all of the water,” Hornat chuckled. “We were all inexperienced.”
It was an exciting time, VanderWeel remembered. “Those kids were really dedicated. Sometimes a little too dedicated. I had to remind them they were here to go to college. They were a good bunch. They were good kids.”
VanderWeel also knows Sutton well. “He is really good with students,” he said. “He’s strict, but very good. He is such a great guy.”
In those first years, the young crew met on a regular basis and trained every week. They would even enter competitions called firefighters’ musters with local firehouses. Regional fire training schools were put on by the state. “It was a great experience,” Hornat said. “Don was like a drill sergeant. He kept us very disciplined.”
Hornat came back in the 1980s for a time and served as a Chaplin for Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue. Today, Edmundite Father Brian Cummings serves in that capacity. As for celebrating a half century of service with Saint Michael’s College Fire and Rescue at their banquet, Hornat said, “I am very excited for Don. He is the figurehead. We are all living for this moment to reconnect people who have been a part of the department all of this time. This event is bringing us all together.”
Sutton, also known as Pappy, said, “I am looking forward to seeing all of my kids.”
About 10 years ago, Fire & Rescue located the old engine, reacquired it and began the restoration process, which started in Williston, and then had it moved to Pfahl’s Mack & Antique Truck Restorations in Bethlehem, CT.
“As an organization, we are so immensely grateful to all those who have come before us in the early days who laid the foundation for such an amazing organization,” Keating said. “We are thankful for the original members and the support that both the College and the Edmundites have graciously given us over our fifty years of existence.”