Williston Fire Chief Kenneth Morton, Jr. will bid farewell to the department Wednesday after a 48-year career as a firefighter that began when he was a freshman at Norwich University.
Morton joined the Wiliston department 38 years ago. He was made interim chief 10 years later and named full-time chief 10 years after that. Today, he and his colleagues look back on his career with great pride.
Williston Town Manager Richard McGuire, who also preparing for retirement, has known Morton for over twenty years. He says the department will have big shoes to fill.
“He has a lot of experience and he kinda lives and breathes fire service,” McGuire said. “He really built this department and so people have gotten very used to his way of doing things.”
McGuire recalled the chief’s fast response to a church fire in 2007. Morton was out on a call when he noticed smoke coming from the church’s steeple. The 200-year-old building had been struck by lightening. McGuire said a wedding had taken place just hours before, but no one was inside the church at the time.
“I wouldn’t say I was single-handedly the Superman,” McGuire. “In fact, credit being due where it’s deserved, it was my wife who actually saw it ahead of me, who at the time was a dispatcher – still is at the Fire Department – and she actually made the phone call when I was on the radio.”
The retiring chief’s passion and humility has had a huge impact on neighboring departments, said Aaron Collette, Burlington’s Deputy Chief of Operations.
“If anything, Chief Morton is passionate about firefighter safety,” Collette said. “He’s certainly been an advocate at many levels, including any legislative initiatives. He served a number of years on the fire rescue coalition for us and he’s always out there. His mind is always forward thinking.”
Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke has known Morton for over 15 years and speaks highly of his qualities as a leader.
“It’s been interesting to watch the transformation of the Williston Fire Department over the last 20 years into a really professional fire department with modern equipment, modern personnel, career personnel,” said Locke.
Morton said his decision to retire was simple.
“I had a very good run.” he said. “I feel as though I have served for many, many years from my freshman year at college. I feel as though it’s time for a change and I’m really happy to move on at middle-60s. I can now begin to do more with camp and boat and golf and wife and children and grandchildren.”
“The list goes on and on and on and on,” he added with a chuckle.
Without hesitation, Morton his staff and fellow firefighters for his success over a long career.
“It’s not me. It’s the department,” he said. “It’s everyone who’s been a part of this organization – the career staff, the call staff, the people who have been here in years passed who are not with us today. And the people who have formed the fire department back in 1949.”