LINCOLN, Maine — A retired U.S. Marine gunnery sergeant decorated for saving lives in Gulf War I and Somalia, Roy Bickford didn’t hesitate or even worry when an elderly woman rushed toward him late last month yelling that her husband wasn’t breathing.
“I said to him, ‘You OK? You OK?’ He was very pale and I could not get a pulse,” Bickford recalled Tuesday. “I pulled him out of his wheelchair and laid him on a picnic table and got him breathing again.”
The Lincoln Town Council gave Bickford, a Lincoln Police Department reserve officer, a commendation during a meeting on Monday night for the valor he exhibited in saving the life of the elderly Mattawamkeag man at Lincoln’s Homecoming celebrations on July 23.
“Reserve officers, for the most part, work very quietly doing their jobs,” Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said. “We don’t hear about them too much, but we do have a lot of talent on our reserve force. They do have previous training, such as is demonstrated by this.”
“The outcome for this elderly gentleman could have been very different,” Goodwin added, “if not for the reserve officer’s being there when he was.”
Training, Bickford said, made the difference.
“You train all of your life and you have all the training and it just kind of gets natural to use,” Bickford said. “When you are faced with a problem, you don’t really think about it. You just do it.”
Bickford was at Cole-Whitney Ford on Main Street getting lunch at the cookout the dealership was hosting as part of Homecoming when the incident occurred. He was in uniform, having just finished working a traffic detail during the festivities, Police Chief William Lawrence said.
Lawrence and other town leaders might never have heard of the incident had not Brian McIntyre, the dealership’s service manager and a witness, told the chief well after the incident. Bickford had not mentioned it to Lawrence.
McIntyre, 42, of Lincoln, said he was impressed with Bickford’s quick, calm response.
“Nobody goes out,” McIntyre said, “and says, ‘You guys [reserve officers] do a good job,’ and we should. I thought they should do something for the guy because he did so well with it.”
Bickford rolled the man on his side, cleared his throat of mucus, put him on his back, used his cardiopulmonary resuscitation training and compressed the man’s chest four times. The man began to gag, so Bickford turned him on his side. The man began breathing and his color immediately improved.
Somewhere during all this, Bickford also called 911, McIntyre said.
It’s a fairly common occurrence for ambulance workers and in hospitals, but saving someone’s life is a relatively rare experience for a police officer, said Lawrence, who has never done it himself in more than 20 years of police work.
“I don’t know too many officers who have brought somebody back,” Lawrence said. “Officer Bickford was in the right place at the right time with the right skills.”
The man he saved, who was in his late 80s or early 90s, was perhaps a diabetic suffering from low sugar. He was later released from Penobscot Valley Hospital of Lincoln, Lawrence said.
Besides his Marine Corps service of 22 years, during which he won two Bronze Stars, the 52-year-old Bickford was a county sheriff’s deputy in Tampa, Fla., from 1989 to 1994. He has been a reserve officer in Lincoln for 1½ years, he said.
“I appreciate the recognition, but the good thing is, the man’s alive,” Bickford said. “That’s the most important thing.”