Emotional send-off for Burlington Rescue Squad as it disbands, merges with city fire department

NOW: Emotional send-off for Burlington Rescue Squad as it disbands, merges with city fire department

BURLINGTON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The Burlington Rescue Squad is coming to an end after 73 years of service.

At 11:59:59 on New Year’s Eve, the 24-member, all-volunteer squad officially disbanded and turned its services over to the City of Burlington Fire Department.

“As the end of the year got a little bit closer, calls started becoming a little bit more emotional and a little bit harder to run at times because in Burlington, it’s a small town and you know the people that you’re helping most of the time,” said the rescue squad’s EMS Chief Jeffrey Koenen.

Koenen called it “surreal” and “bittersweet” to know that his time with the squad was ending, but he was glad the department had a final sendoff party Tuesday night.

He said Wednesday morning was also a bittersweet time for the rescue squad because it was the first time the City of Burlington Fire Department responded to one of the squad’s calls.

“Some of my members actually had their pagers on yet because they forgot to shut them off, and it became a very emotional time for some of them knowing that, yeah, it's not their calls anymore,” Koenen said.

The decision to merge with the city fire department was the result of a high volume of calls and fewer rescue squad members to be able to respond to them, especially as the younger generation becomes stretched trying to balance other responsibilities. Koenen said merging with the city fire department will likely improve response times.

He said the rescue squad responded to more than 1,500 calls in the last year and most cities go to paid, full-time service at 800 calls.

Second Lieutenant Jeana Swanson is one of several volunteers on the squad who now plans on joining another department because she has such a passion for helping others.

“I didn't expect to become a lieutenant. I didn't expect to gain the family I gained here. That's family you’ll never lose,” Swanson said.

She has a full-time job working up to 50 hours a week, has two children and is now training with Rochester’s department.

“It’s crazy, but I couldn’t picture my life without it, so I like it and I will continue to do it,” Swanson said.

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