Remembering dedicated volunteers
by Bethany M. Dunbar, December 11, 2009
It’s been more than a year since we heard Annette Lapierre’s voice on the scanner, calling out her neighbors to help fight a fire or someone who had been hurt in a car accident. Annette’s voice made you sit up and take notice. And who better to call people to volunteer than someone who had been serving her community faithfully and well since most of those firefighters and ambulance volunteers were knee-high to a grasshopper? Dispatcher Annette Lapierre and her husband, retired chief Emile “Bill” Lapierre were an institution in Orleans.
Bill was the chief of the fire department for 29 years and an active volunteer for 64 years. He was deeply proud of his department, which had to be well-trained and have enough people to handle a potential fire at the Ethan Allen furniture mill. Time and again, his department proved that the volunteers were ready. He helped get the Northeast International Mutual Aid system going, which means neighboring towns help each other with their fires when needed.
Bill stayed invovled, as well as he could, for almost all his life. The Lapierres continued dispatching even when health problems kept them from actually fighting the fires. If there was a bad fire in the middle of the night, he called me or another Chronicle reporter at home so we could get some pictures. In return we gave the Lapierres a free subscription and the department any photos they would like. The photos are a record of what happened as well as a recognition of the efforts of the volunteers.
As fire warden, Bill came into the Chronicle office once a year with a letter to the editor reminding people to get a permit before burning grass or wood waste in the spring. There were times he ordered no burning because things were too dry. In the springtime it can be deceiving when all the snow is melting because things seem damp. But there are no leaves on the trees and all the dead grass can catch fire and easily get out of control. Despite his warnings, out-of-control grass fires are a common subject of photographs for the newspaper.
One day in the fall of 2008 I got a call to take a different kind of picture. Annette Lapierre had to go into the Maple Lane Nursing Home as her health was failing at age 73. The volunteers and emergency workers wanted to honor her for all her years of service and wanted the Chronicle there to take a picture.
It was a good turnout, of course — emergency workers, family, and friends collected for the event. I could see that Bill was pretty emotional, but we got everyone together. I got a few good pictures, and I drove home thinking of how different things would be without the Lapierres actively involved in the emergency service community.
I took that photo on October 30, for publication in the next Chronicle, November 5.
Before I could get that photo published, Bill Lapierre had died, November 3. Before another newspaper could be published, Annette Lapierre had died, November 6.
Orleans had a 1938 LaFrance fire truck that Bill loved like a child. It was built ten years after he was born, and it came out for all the parades. His funeral procession included the fire truck, and a child watching thought he was seeing a parade. I think Bill would have liked that.
The Lapierres are deeply missed. Posted here are photos I took on October 30, and the story I did about Bill’s death. A story of Bill’s funeral, a tribute by their daughter, Karen, and their obituaries appear on the Chronicle’s web site.
Do you remember the Lapierres and have a story about them you could share as a comment? Or a story about another dedicated volunteer? I’d love to hear it.
Annette Lapierre was honored by emergency workers from the Orleans fire department, ambulance squad, and Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin on Thursday, October 30, for 38 years of service as the emergency dispatcher. With her in the photo are family members who described growing up in the Lapierre household and how the six kids and grandchildren had better get out of the way when that red phone rang because it had to be answered quickly. One weekend a year Mrs. Lapierre and her husband, Emile, would go to the state fire convention. Mr. Lapierre recalls the day he first saw his future bride, riding with the milk truck driver when he was just a little boy and he noticed a little curly-haired girl at one of the farms. “I was interested in trucks,” he said. That didn’t change, really, but he became interested in the little curly haired girl as well. In the front row, left to right, are: Gail Fortin, Annette Lapierre, Sydney Lapierre, and Olivia Lapierre. In the second row are Emile “Bill” Lapierre, Devon Lapierre, April Lapierre, Karen Lapierre, Dustin Lapierre, Debbie Lapierre, Heather Lapierre and Mindy Pickel. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar
“He loved the smell of smoke”
by Bethany M. Dunbar, the Chronicle, November 5, 2008
ORLEANS — “Life’s going to be tough without him,” said Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin about retired fire chief Emile “Bill” Lapierre, who died early Monday morning.
“They’ll never be replaced,” he said about Mr. Lapierre and his wife, Annette, who retired from dispatching services after 38 years. “Nobody will have their dedication.”
Sheriff Martin’s sentiments are being felt by everyone in the community of Orleans, not to mention the giant extended Lapierre family, and everyone who worked in emergency services anywhere near here.
“He chose public service above all,” said Senator Vince Illuzzi, whose office was right next to the Lapierre home. “It’s people like him who make traditional Vermont communities as strong as they are.”
Mr. Illuzzi wrote a resolution honoring the Lapierres that was passed in the Vermont Legislature in 1994. Mr. Illuzzi said he remembers Mr. Lapierre saying how he loved the smell of smoke.
John Morley, village manager for Orleans and a representative in the Legislature, said that he first met Mr. Lapierre when he was a little boy. Mr. Lapierre worked for his grandfather, who used to own a gas station on Main Street. Mr. Lapierre would pump gas and change tires — until that fire whistle blew.
“My father tells me that whenever that whistle blew, he was gone,” said Mr. Morley.
“He basically lived and breathed the Orleans Fire Department,” said Mr. Morley. Mr. Morley said the Lapierres also did dispatching for emergency calls for the village, if there was a water leak or an electrical line down.
Mr. Morley said he was most impressed with Mr. Lapierre’s commitment to advancing the fire department — getting up-to-date training for all the volunteers and making sure the equipment and buildings were top knotch. Mr. Morley said Mr. Lapierre was always an active participant at the annual Village Meeting with good questions and comments.
“He treated me and the village of Orleans like gold.”
Mr. Morley said he had just spoken to Mr. Lapierre a couple of days before he died. Mr. Lapierre knew it was time to give up dispatching, Mr. Morley said, because he felt he might not be able to do it perfectly anymore and someone might get hurt. Arrangements had recently been made to change to a professional dispatching service.
Mr. Lapierre, who was 80 years old, put more than 50 years into the fire department, 30 of them as chief. A World War II veteran, he was a member of the American Legion for 50 years and one of the people who got the current post built.
He also got the current fire station built, with help from many other people in Orleans.
Sheriff Martin said Mr. Lapierre put in more time as a volunteer than most. His efforts encouraged others to get involved.
“He set that example,” the sheriff said.
Funeral services will be on Thursday, November 6, at 11 a.m. at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church in Orleans.