RUMFORD — Selectmen recognized two brothers Thursday night for their generosity during the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene last year.
Jim Nicols of Mexico and Billy Nicols of Rumford were named Rumford Citizens of the Year for lending Rumford temporary use of their company's logging bridge to span Bean Brook. They voluntarily installed it after flooding from Tropical Storm Irene destroyed the Swain Road bridge Aug. 28 and 29, 2011.
"While the residents of Rumford owe a great deal of gratitude to the Nicols brothers, it is most certain that it is a debt we will never be able to repay for their most unselfish acts of kindness, during one of Rumford's most difficult times," Selectman Jolene Lovejoy said, while reading her nomination paper for both men.
The Nicols brothers own and operate Nicols Brothers Logging in the Rumford Industrial Park, she said.
"Some people think that it's only during the best of conditions that we see good things happening," Lovejoy said. "I personally think that it is when the worst of conditions present themselves that our true 'heroes' surface."
Irene hammered Rumford on Aug. 28, 2011, washing away major and minor roads, uprooting trees of all sizes, flooding homes and causing major power outages.
Lovejoy said the Swain Road bridge had served as a major connector for residents and visitors.
"Not only were daily commuters inconvenienced, but they also risked the loss of life without timely emergency services," she said.
"Things were so bad in Rumford that Gov. (Paul) LePage was helicoptered in to see firsthand the damage that had been done."
Lovejoy said much discussion in town keyed on how to resolve the Swain Road bridge crisis.
"Town officials were looking for the best possible solution to serve the community long-term, but before the town came to their final decision regarding the bridge, two unlikely 'Super Heroes,' one from Mexico and one from Rumford, came forward without any prodding and offered to alleviate the situation," she said.
"They not only offered the use of their own temporary bridge, but also volunteered to help install it."
Lovejoy said people who are close to Jim and Billy Nicols "agree they would never expect any special recognition and are just glad to have been able to help." She said both men have helped on many other projects in and out of Rumford over the years.
"It's something of a Nicols family tradition for these boys," she said.
Lovejoy nominated them for the distinction and other selectmen weighed in.
"I know Jimmy and Billy Nicols pretty well and they're not going to like this," Selectman Brad Adley said. "Super guys, including their whole crew. They all step up. They're phenomenal. No prodding, no phone calls. Great business owners, employers, super, super guys, but Jimmy lives in Mexico, and we can't hold that against him," Adley said.
"He does own property in Rumford," Lovejoy said.
"It certainly is an episode that transcended town lines," Selectman Jeff Sterling said. "This is very appropriate."
Reminiscing, Puiia said he was out driving around and surveying the damage from Irene when a Public Works employee told him, "'Hey, the Nicols brothers want to lend us a bridge!'
"You couldn't ask for two more genuine people, their crews who came in to help install it, it was a work of beauty," he said.
Puiia said the town didn't really get the project going until January to install a new bridge.
"So it would have been four or five months of not being able to access that road for public safety reasons, and certainly if you needed an ambulance on the other side," he said. "It was a 6-mile trip in and a 6-mile trip back...so really, the Nicols brothers did a great service to all of our citizens."
After selectmen voted unanimously to accept Lovejoy's nomination, Puiia said the brothers will be presented the award at a future meeting.