ROCKPORT, Maine — In May, when a sailboat flipped over and two people were stranded in Sennebec Pond, first responders found a boat to help save the pair, but no paddles. To get to the victims, the rescuers found shovels to paddle the boat and save the sailors.
On several other occasions as well, police, fire or rescue personnel in Knox County have had to borrow and commandeer boats for rescues or to recover bodies. After a string of these events, a Rockport couple decided to buy two emergency response boats for county first responders.
The donated emergency boats cost about $15,000 total. To pay for them, avid boaters Jan Frost and Eric Anderson of Rockport sold one of their own vessels.
“It came to our attention on a number of occasions that first responders were risking their own lives to do recovery or rescue on bodies of water,” Anderson said. “We thought, they risk their lives and they don’t have good equipment.”
Both boats are inflatable and can be deployed rapidly. Being so portable, each also can be taken easily to any emergency scene. All officers have to do is take the boat out of its carrying bag, hook it to a compressed air tank, and within minutes it’s ready to launch. The couple also donated two outboard motors to attach to the boats.
While the boats will be available for any emergency in the county, the couple worked with Ray Sisk, director of the Knox County Emergency Management Agency, to decide where to keep the boats. Sisk picked the Union and Thomaston fire departments to house the boats because of their proximity to other towns and to the lakes and rivers in the region.
“It’s actually pretty huge for our capabilities here,” Sisk said. “Eric and Jan saw there was a real gap in our ability to do freshwater rescues on the ponds and lakes. We have the saltwater sites covered pretty well. It closes a huge gap we had.”
Thomaston and Union fire departments will hold a joint training session at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Ayer Park landing on Route 235 in Union, according to Sisk.
“We hope [the boats] are never used, but the reality is that they are going to use them in the future. Hopefully, they will be for rescue, but often they are for [body] recoveries,” Anderson said. “We want to make sure first responders who are putting their lives on the line are safe. No one else has to die.”