June 22, 2018
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Northern Penobscot County firefighters practice saving lives in cold water

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

ENFIELD, Maine — Depending on the temperature of the water you find yourself in, hypothermia can kill you in as little as 15 minutes.

First comes intense shivering and exhaustion. Confusion, memory loss, slurred speech follow as the water absorbs body heat faster than it is produced, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A dozen northern Penobscot County firefighters who take it upon themselves to save people unfortunate enough to fall into icy waters practiced their rescue skills on Cold Stream Pond on Sunday.

Lowell Fire Department Fire Chief Rick Smart, who organized the training, said Monday that he felt the timing was right.

“We’re covering an area with a couple lakes and a river in it and we need to rescue the people in it in case there is an accident,” Smart said. “Around here there haven’t been a lot of water rescues, but there were some over in western Maine and I believe down near Lewiston they had one.”

The paid-per-call firefighters practiced achieving buoyancy and rescue techniques in special water-rescue suits that allow them to stay relatively warm while in the almost freezing water. They practiced in breaks caused by winds and upwellings near shore in the otherwise thick ice.

Firefighters from Burlington, Lowell and Passadumkeag attended. A Penobscot Valley Hospital ambulance stood by in case there were injuries. A class on hypothermia also was conducted, Smart said.

“For the new guys, it was a chance to understand the suits and what hypothermia is, what hazards there are to look for,” Smart said.

Sunday’s session was preceded by an eight-hour classroom training session on Saturday at the Lowell Fire Department on West Old Main Road. Eighteen firefighters attended. The department sponsored the training sessions.

The Upper Highlands Mutual Aid Consortium, a group of leaders from the Burlington, Greenbush, Howland, Lincoln, Lowell, Mattawamkeag, Passadumkeag and Seboeis fire departments, will hold a basic firefighting school in March. Anyone interested in attending should call Smart at 732-5180.

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