BRATTLEBORO -- Drew Hazelton enrolled in an Explorer Post Youth Program when he was 14.
The program introduced teenagers to law enforcement and emergency response basics and Hazelton said when he attended the classes he learned as much about himself as he did about the roles that firefighters, police and EMS responders play in the community.
"I found out that I really enjoyed getting out and helping people," Hazelton said about the training. "I thought it was something I could see myself doing for a long time."
Hazelton, 36, took that class 22 years ago and in one way or the other he has been helping people ever since.
And while as Chief of Operations for Rescue Inc. he will be spending less time in the back of an ambulance, Hazelton said he still sees his role as serving those in southeastern Vermont and southwestern New Hampshire when they are most in need.
After spending almost a year as interim chief, the Rescue Inc. Board of Directors has named Hazelton the chief of operations for the emergency response non-profit organization that serves 13 Vermont towns and two in New Hampshire, over an area that covers about 500 square miles.
Hazelton grew up in Newfane and since taking the Explorer Post Youth Program at the Newbrook Fire Station, he said he has been involved in emergency response activities in one way or the other. He was trained as a junior firefighter while in high school, and attended paramedic school at Southern Maine Technical College. While living in South Portland Hazelton worked for the Gorham Maine Fire Department. During college Hazelton was torn between devoting his career to working in fire fighting or emergency medical transport, or EMT. The more he got involved with EMT, the clearer that choice became.
After graduating in 2000 Hazelton returned to Vermont and started working for Rescue Inc. when he was 22.
"Every day is different. I like the mystery of medicine and the challenge of figuring things out," Hazelton said.
During his 14 years at Rescue Inc. Hazelton rose through the ranks, being named captain, and then manager of the agency's Technical Rescue Team, a volunteer arm of the organization.
He has been recognized as squad member of the year and was the 2009 Vermont Advanced Provider of the Year.
When former Chief of Operations Mark Considine announced in June 2013 that he wanted to step down to spend more time as a trained paramedic in the back of the ambulance, Hazelton recognized it as an opportunity to learn more about how a rural emergency medicine organization works from the inside.
The Rescue Inc. Board of Directors named Hazelton interim chief of operations in August 2013.
Hazelton worked with Considine for about five months before the board chose him as the full-time chief in June.
"We have a lot of confidence in Drew," said Rescue Inc. President Kathy Hege. "The board thinks Drew is the right person to help the agency grow in a positive direction."
After Considine told the board that he wanted to step down, Rescue Inc. also lost its chief financial officer.
Hege said the board spent time assessing the organization and contemplated changes to its management structure. She said the board wanted to give itself time before making the decision, and also wanted to see how Hazelton made the transition into management.
When Considine was ready to step down as chief of operations Hege said everyone on the board was convinced that Hazelton should be offered the job.
"It was unanimous," she said. "I called Drew and asked him if he was sure he wanted it, and when he said he was, we offered him the job. I think it is a positive step for him and for Rescue."
Since stepping in as chief of operations, Hazelton said he has been surprised about all that goes on behind the scenes.
He has 15 towns, and 15 selectboards to answer to, along with the Rescue Inc. board and a staff of about 60 full- and part-time workers and volunteers.
The future is uncertain in the light of major changes in the state and federal health care programs. And while the organization just started its 2015 fiscal year, within a few months it will be time to start discussing the 2016 budget.
"This is going to be a good challenge for me. I'm excited," Hazelton said.
But with everything else going on Hazelton said he still wants to schedule one day a week where he is working in the back of the ambulance.
He is going to continue his training and said he always wants to remember why he got involved with EMT work to begin with.
"It's going to be a busy summer and I want to get out. I enjoy working with patients," he said. "Paramedic skills are perishable and you have to stay on top of your game."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.