Of all the tasks and business to which Wilton’s Board of Selectmen was tending on a very busy Monday evening, June 7, nothing seemed more important, or joy-filled, than taking a long-awaited moment to give special recognition to the town’s COVID-19 response team.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice began, “I am thrilled to be here tonight to discuss this subject because it means where we are in the pandemic… close to the end.”
Vanderslice continued, “The town of Wilton was incredibly fortunate to have the outstanding team that we have had over the last 15 months during the pandemic. The team has been made up of town employees, our partners on the Board of Education, and partners outside of town government.”
Despite the jam-packed meeting agenda, Vanderslice savored the time to recognize each of the many individuals on the multi-tiered team who contributed:
- In addition to the first selectwoman, the leadership team (or as Vanderslice purposefully called it, “the co-leadership team”) included Health Director Barry Bogle and Chief of Police and Emergency Management Director John Lynch, who were both in attendance at the meeting.
“I want to say it was truly a mutually respectful collaboration among the three of us, and it only grew more and more so as time went on,” Vanderslice said.
Lynch echoed Vanderslice’s remarks. “We had some very talented people and it all came together. The one thing I want to really hit home is how fortunate we are to have such good people at all levels. It was an amazing journey. And I use the past tense because I’m hopeful, but rest assured we are prepared and we’re ready if there’s another phase or something similar.”
- Along with the leadership trio, the “core team” included:
- Capt. Tom Conlan and Capt. Rob Cipolla (Wilton Police Department)
- Chris Burney (Director, Dept. of Public Works)
- Geoff Herald (Interim Fire Chief) and Jim Blanchfield (Fire Chief)
- John Miscioscia (President, Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps)
- The next tier included:
- Dr. Kevin Smith (Superintendent, Wilton Public Schools)
- Anne Kelly-Lenz (Wilton Chief Financial Officer)
- Sarah Heath (Director, Social Services Dept.)
- Steve Pierce (Director, Parks and Recreation Dept.)
- Michael Wrinn (Director/Town Planner, Planning and Zoning Dept.)
- John Savarese (Director, Information Systems Dept.)
- Sarah Taffel (Director, Human Resources Dept.)
- Sarah Gioffre (Community Affairs Coordinator, Office of the First Selectwoman)
- Mike Vincelli (Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Health Dept.)
- Dave Heiden (Wilton Community Emergency Response Team)
- Mike Conklin (Director, Environmental Affairs Dept.)
- Rocco Grosso (Fire Marshall)
- Jen Zbell (Contact Tracing Supervisor, Health Dept.)
- Sharon Bradley (CEO, Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Fairfield County)
- Jim Brubaker (EMS Director, Norwalk Hospital)
- The vaccination team was led by Vincelli and included:
- Dave Heiden
- Sarah Heath
- Chris Burney
- Sharon Bradley
- Sarah Gioffre
- Patricia Brandt (Assistant Coordinator of Community Affairs, Office of the First Selectwoman)
- Jen Fascitelli (Administrative Manager, Dept. of Public Works)
- Lt. Dave Hartman (WPD)
- Maria Coleman (Director of HR and General Administration, Wilton Public Schools)
- Note: Vanderslice indicated recognition of WEPCO (which hosted the town’s vaccination clinics at the Wilton Episcopal Presbyterian complex) would be discussed separately
Special Acknowledgment by WVAC President
WVAC President Miscioscia took the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the incredible volunteers in Wilton’s ambulance corps. “I want to, most importantly, thank our dedicated and committed volunteers who rose to the challenge in light of the dangers that the job presented our volunteers, accepting the risk of contracting the virus or bringing it home to family members in order to complete their mission to serve this community. We came out of this crisis, a stronger, larger, and better-prepared volunteer organization.”
He recounted what he considered “the greatest compliment received during the pandemic” when a paid EMT from Norwalk told a WVAC member, “I really don’t want to be doing this… I can’t even imagine showing up as a volunteer.”
Vanderslice marveled at the volunteerism. “It was difficult even as a paid person for a lot of people to do their jobs, but certainly… it will always be memorable and amazing to think about what those [WVAC] folks did [and] the absolute sacrifice that they were willing to make as volunteers.”
Miscioscia credited the leadership team’s role in the WVAC’s success. “As frontline emergency medical services, we had a front-row seat to challenges of the pandemic. We couldn’t have met those challenges without the commitment of our entire leadership team, with the assistance and guidance of the Norwalk EMS team led by Jim Brubaker who developed pandemic policies and procedures for our members to follow. These were updated several times as new information became available. And I can proudly say that no volunteer member was infected with the virus by performing patient care.”
Barry Bogle Reflects
Short of saying the pandemic is over, Bogle recognized the tide is turning on COVID-19. He began by saying, “We’re at a point now where we can relax, breathe a sigh of fresh air and say, yes, we’ve done it.”
But recalling back to February of 2020, when Bogle began preparations, he knew he had the leadership’s support. “We started on this journey, one that has been challenging and oftentimes, as you all know, maddening, to say the least. And so we’re at a point now where we’ve gone though all that, we’ve faced the challenges, we’ve persevered, and we’ve had a great outcome.”
“I know my conservative approach was a little bit over the top at times,” Bogle said, an apparent reference to the opposition he faced from some residents in favor of looser policies. “You guys stuck with me throughout all of that, and I really do appreciate it,” he told the team.
Bogle reflected, “Public service is oftentimes an unrewarding field of endeavor, but for those of us who choose to take up this field, we know that we’re here for a specific reason, and that is that we are concerned about those our fellow human beings.”
Bogle also said Wilton was seen as a model by surrounding towns. “We charted a course that I strongly believe that surrounding towns followed. They may not have said it out openly, they may not have given us the accolades. But I know for sure that what we did at the onset was fashioned and imitated by other towns around us. And today, when you look at all the metrics, we can see that Wilton did exceedingly well, above and beyond what anyone, any neighboring town around us can attest to.”
Selectman Joshua Cole also showed his support for Bogle. He said, “You had a very unenviable task and you handled it with real professionalism. No one is ever going to be satisfied a hundred percent with any decision that’s made, and I know many people were upset with some decisions, but I know in the bottom of your heart, you really had the best interest of our town and all of our residents behind every decision you made. I appreciate that and I just want to thank you carrying us through this pandemic with all the challenges that were faced. You did a terrific job and we’re very proud of you and your team.”
What Gave Bogle Goosebumps
In perhaps the most touching moment of the meeting, Bogle shared a letter he received from a Wilton second-grader last March.
She told Bogle she wanted to thank him for being a “community helper,” something she had learned about in social studies class. “We were asked to write a note to a community helper in Wilton to show our thanks and I chose you because I know you’re working hard to help stop coronavirus,” the letter said.
Bogle said he keeps the letter on the wall of his office and revealed, “Every morning I look at it, and it reminds me of why we do what we do. We do what we do because of our citizens, our vulnerable, our young people. I get goosebumps when I read this.”
Communications Were Key…
Several speakers during the meeting highlighted Vanderslice’s communications and email updates as critical throughout the pandemic.
Selectwoman Deb McFadden made the point, “I want to acknowledge Lynne and what she did in her communications. Communication is key in a crisis because otherwise people either go down a wrong path, they panic, they have anxiety, [etc.]. The communication that [Vanderslice] generated was really key, not only for the people inside Town Hall, but everybody outside of it. We became the leader in the state in terms of how to do it right.”
… And So Was Compliance
McFadden also gave a special shout-out to the community at large.
“I also want to thank the residents, because not all communities had residents who are willing to comply with directives from their town leaders. And it says a lot about where we are with our stats and our numbers, that it wasn’t just about the directives that came out and the recommendations, it was about our residents who actually complied,” McFadden said.
A Sober Reality
If there was one lesson from the pandemic, it was to never underestimate the virus.
No one at the meeting was really ready to say the pandemic is over.
“We don’t want to drop the ball at the one-yard line. So we want to stay vigilant and continue to do the right things,” Selectman Ross Tartell said, as he asked Bogle on what matters still required vigilance and how the BOS could help.
Bogle responded, “What you can do for us right now is not to let up … We still are not out of the woods yet. We want you to practice those mitigating practices that we put in place … because we’re still having to deal with the COVID crisis around the world and it doesn’t take much for it to come right back to your own doorstep. So wash your hands as often as possible, remind your close friends to keep their distance, when possible. When you do go out and you’re socializing, just remember that you still need to be a little cautious. We still want that message to be out there. We want you to go out and socialize, get back to some sense of normality, but at the same time be cautious.”