Fire chief dies while en route to fatal accident

Posted March 06, 2010, at 2:38 p.m.

THE FORKS, Maine — West Forks Fire Chief Brian Rowe, 66, was active in his community, a colorful storyteller who could entertain his friends for hours, but above all, he always was willing to respond to someone in need.

Rowe was en route to help an injured man who had crashed his snowmobile into a tree on Interconnecting Snowmobile Trail 87 near Moxie Pond when he died Friday evening of what authorities say was a heart attack.

That snowmobiler, Jason Dodge, 37, of West Gardiner, who suffered head trauma and internal injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency personnel from West Forks Fire and Rescue, according to a press release issued by Deborah Turcotte, Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokeswoman.

“It was a bad day for The Forks,” Gordon Berry, a local firefighter, said Saturday.

Dodge had been the last snowmobiler in a group of five that included his brother. The group was traveling from a family camp in Caratunk when the accident occurred, Turcotte said Saturday. Dodge, who was wearing a helmet, failed to negotiate an icy left-hand turn on his late model Ski Doo 800 Renegade and it hit a 9-inch tree head-on, she said. The incident is under investigation.

Turcotte urged snowmobilers to use caution on the snowmobile trails because of the conditions. There are still good sledding opportunities in northern Maine, but riders should be aware of crusty ice, open water crossings and obstacles such as roots and rocks, she noted.

Rowe, who was unaware that Dodge had died, suffered a heart attack and died en route on the rescue call. The West Forks Fire and Rescue emergency medical personnel who had been at the snowmobile accident came to Rowe’s aid and performed lifesaving measures, but those efforts were unsuccessful, according to Turcotte.

“It’s definitely a blow to the community,” Berry said of Rowe. “It won’t be the same around here without him; we’re going to miss him dearly.” Berry, owner of Berry’s General Store, where Rowe and other residents congregated daily for coffee and local chitchat, called Rowe quite a storyteller. He was a “heck of a nice guy. Everybody in town liked him.”

Rowe had retired as a deputy sheriff from Sagadahoc County where he had worked for years, according to Berry. Years ago, the U.S. Navy named a ship after the late actor John Wayne and when Wayne came for the christening, Rowe served as his security, he said.

In addition to serving as this small community’s fire chief, Rowe was a Maine Guide and operated the Best of the Free Life guide service. He also served as president of the local fish and game club.

Harry Abraham, second selectman in The Forks, said Saturday that it was a very sad day for the community. “He was a very good man,” he said. “It’s just tough on the community, it’s a shock, it was very sudden.”

Rowe was very dedicated to his job as fire chief, Abraham said. “I don’t know that the man ever missed a call.”

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