MACHIASPORT, Maine — When Susan and Wayne Tinker got out of their car last Saturday night, little did they know that a life-threatening emergency was moments away.
The couple credit neighbors they had never met, local and state police, and a bevy of other rescuers with saving Susan Tinker and her dog after they both plunged into icy tidal waters behind their Rim Road home.
“We knew not to go out on the ice,” she said this week. Her husband Wayne is a former Massachusetts firefighter who has seen first hand the dangers of thin ice.
But at about 5:30 Saturday night, as they were getting out of the car in their driveway, their dog Ollie bolted in chase of a fox.
“Ollie is huge, about 155 pounds,” Susan Tinker said. “He is half Great Pyrenees, quarter lab and quarter Newfoundland. He looks just like a polar bear.”
Trying to keep up with the dog in thigh-deep snow, the couple raced to the edge of an estuary behind their home.
“We found Ollie out in the middle of the estuary, stranded on the ice with the incoming tide,” Susan Tinker said. “While attempting to get Ollie off the ice, I unexpectedly slid down the bank onto the ice. The ice broke, sending me into the water. The water was very deep.”
Fear raced through Tinker’s mind as she managed to get back up onto a sheet of ice and stood with the dog while her husband ran back to their home to get a rope and call for help. It was dark; the tide was coming in, sweeping across the little ice floe; she prayed.
What happened next might be commonplace in most Maine communities, but to the Tinkers it was staggering. Wayne Tinkers’ 911 call triggered an emergency response they never expected.
“It was absolutely amazing,” Susan Tinker said. “Before this, I didn’t even know my next door neighbor Clayton.”
Tinker said the first to arrive on the scene included Clayton Wood, Scott Verburgt, Machias firefighters Adam Wood and Charity Peavey, Machias Police Officer Darrel Hinnerman, State Police Sgt. Jeff Ingemi, and Trooper Miles Carpenter. They were followed by other members of the Machias and Machiasport fire departments and a dozen other emergency personnel.
Within minutes of arriving, rescuers had pulled Tinker and the dog from the freezing water.
“Clayton, Wayne, Scott and Adam pulled me off the ice sheet and then they and several others proceeded with much muster to pull Ollie out of the water up onto the icy bank,” Tinker recalled. “Ollie was taken home by firefighter Charity Peavey and put in front of a roaring woodstove to warm up.”
Tinker said she felt fine until the shock of the ordeal overtook her on her walk to the waiting ambulance.
“With the help of two men, who really had to carry me up the knee deep snow covered, steep hill to the ambulance, I was given outstanding emergency medical treatment for hypothermia by Rose Hennessey and Christy Verburgt who are both [emergency medical technicians] and the wonderful driver Les Haynes. The Downeast Community Hospital Emergency Room team was terrific and after treatment I was able to go home.”
Tinker said both she and her husband were amazed at the level of response to their call for help.
“Washington County is an incredible place to live,” she said.
Tinker called the BDN to thank everyone from her neighbors to emergency responders to the man who answered the 911 call. She said that many times the extraordinary, life-saving efforts of many of these people go unnoticed and without praise.
“This story could have had a much more terrifying ending,” she said, “except for the dedication of all of these rescuers.”