OXFORD — Fire/Rescue Chief Paul Hewey told selectmen Thursday evening the importance of staffing the Fire/Rescue  Station in light of Wednesday open-water rescue on Thompson Lake.

Hewey led his rescue team in pulling 56-year-old Mark Simpson of Pine Point Road in Oxford from the icy waters on the north end of the lake. Simpson had skated from his home and nearly 2,000 feet from shore when he fell through the ice, Hewey said.

“I believe it is because of extra per diem staff that this person survived,” Hewey said. “It helped us get there quickly, in 17 minutes, and he was put in the ambulance in less than 45.”

He said more than 10 years ago, the town approved a plan to pay four people cross-trained — from firefighter EMT up to paramedic level — to staff the station on Route 26 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Two are assigned to ambulances and two are assigned to firetrucks. Hewey is a paid full-time fire/rescue chief working 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Rescuers haul equipment Wednesday afternoon on Thompson Lake in Oxford where Mark Simpson, 56, of Pine Point Road in Oxford fell through the ice while ice skating. He was taken to a Norway hospital. Chuck Blaquiere photo

Since April 2020, he said, the department has paid staff to be on call from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., giving the department 24/7 coverage.

It was the staffing, Hewey said, that made a difference in Wednesday’s rescue.

He said in a phone interview after the meeting that rescuers used 1,900 feet of rope to reach Simpson, who was three-quarters of the way across the lake from his home. The chief estimated Simpson was in the water about 25 minutes before he was pulled out, lethargic and incoherent, and brought to shore. He was taken to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.

“I’ve been to other calls like this and it’s never a good outcome,” Hewey said.

Hewey told selectmen Thursday that there have been 72 rescue calls over the last 21 days, up 12 from last year.

“We used to get an average of nine calls weekly, it’s gone up to 21,” he said. “And COVID is not slowing down. We’ve had two guys have to go out because of it, although no one has been infected.”

Rescue personnel began their COVID-19 vaccinations two weeks ago and firefighters are now receiving their first round of shots. He said the department’s personal protective equipment inventory remains stable.

The coronavirus has also affected the Town Office staff.

Town Clerk Elizabeth Olsen told the board Thursday that the office closed part of Thursday and will be closed during lunch from noon to 1 p.m. Friday because two employees have been exposed, one when a family member became ill and the other outside a building on town property while not wearing a mask.

Olsen said the office will be short-staffed for the next 10 days or so. She said she hopes to have two employees available during the day next week. The town website and Facebook page will be updated with any adjustments in business hours, she said.

In other business, Olsen said she is working on foreclosure notices to owners with unpaid property taxes.

Selectmen also authorized Town Manager Butch Asselin to sign an interlocal agreement with Norway in the event the highway department becomes shorthanded because of COVID-19, and to sign a separate agreement with Mechanic Falls to cover sections of roads connecting the towns for the same reasons.

Staff copy editor Mary Delamater contributed to this report.

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