OXFORD — Thanks to the generosity of local donors, the Oxford Fire Department is preparing itself for cold-water rescue efforts this coming winter. 

On Thursday, Oxford firefighter George Gardner showed off some of the equipment purchased with $2,200 donated by residents during two fundraisers in May. 

The department purchased 1,200 feet of emergency rope, 14 Type III personal floatation devices and two “technical” personal floatation devices, specially designed for use in fast-moving water. 

The new equipment builds on the department’s supply of six neoprene emergency dry suits, a cold-water rescue sled, and 400 feet of rope. 

Local fire departments have prioritized purchasing and training with cold-water rescue equipment following the death of a 17-year-old who fell through the ice on Chapman Pond near Hebron while checking his beaver traps last December, Gardner said. 

Despite taking every effort, rescuers were unable to save the young man, Gardner said.


“Sometimes, no matter what you do, it’s not enough,” he reflected. 

Gardner, who served in the Navy and has trained other emergency workers on water rescue for a long time, said the tragic episode was a “wake-up” call for local departments.

“It never clicked before that we had a real need for it,” Gardner said. 

Last winter, the Norway and Paris fire departments invested in their own cold-water equipment, including dry suits, inflatable rescue craft and rope.

The two departments, along with Oxford and Poland, who have had equipment of their own for decades, conducted a large training exercise in early January to prepare for other water emergencies. Gardner said the departments are planning similar training exercises for this year.

What’s really important, however, is for people to exercise caution and stay safe, especially around frozen water, Gardner said.

“Ultimately, we’d rather never have to leave the garage,” he said.

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