Members of the Harvard Fire Department rescued a kayaker on September 5 after he overturned and was forced to hang onto another paddler’s kayak against the strong currents of the Nashua River.
“I have been in this river a number of times and have never seen the water move as quickly as it is,” said Robert Curran, a member of the Harvard Fire Department who responded to emergency call.
The woman paddling alongside the stranded kayaker had tied him to the side of her kayak with what appeared to be her paddle lanyard, Curran said. After tying the lanyard to the man’s hands, she clung to her life jacket to keep it out of the water. “He was very cold and very weak after battling the current and the temperature,” Curran said, adding the man was having trouble breathing. “Our main goal was to try and keep him warm, keep him comfortable, and get him back to the ambulance.”
Harvard firefighters sent their rescue boat into a dive to retrieve the man downstream from the Oxbow National Wildlife Refuge. Although water rescues don’t happen often at Harvard, the department trains for them regularly. As one of the first people to arrive at the station after receiving the call, Curran donned a dry suit, an item of clothing that regulates body temperature and keeps the wearer dry, in hopes that he could need to go into the river.
An integrated platform at the front of the dive rescue boat allows for rapid recovery and maneuvering during rescue procedures, which typically involve tying a person to a rope and gradually advancing them towards the victim. Due to strong currents and a tree blocking access to kayakers, responders looked for a different solution.
“It kind of looks like a pool noodle,” Curran said, referring to the 4-foot styrofoam noodle attached to a rope that was used during the rescue. “We threw this at her and she put it around her waist. Then we brought them both back to our boat. Responders then informed the ambulance, which was waiting at the Oxbow parking lot on Still River Depot Road, to turn up the heat and prepare blankets for the man’s arrival.
The fire department responded before the District 8 Technical Rescue Team, a regional team of firefighters from around 37 towns in Worcester County. In the event that further assistance is required, a dive team within the District 8 team is immediately notified whenever there is a water rescue, said fire chief Rick Sicard.
Before the District 8 team formed about five years ago, Sicard said some towns had their own dive or collapse teams. “Due to the lack of calls it was very difficult to maintain these teams,” said Sicard. “So all the cities were part of this technical rescue team, where they train in structural collapse, search and rescue, water rescue and scuba diving. Since the department has a diving rescue boat, they help the District 8 team with water rescues.
Curran said the department acts as “the type of first responder at the tip of the spear,” and that the District 8 team has advanced skills and specialized training for situations where a victim might be underwater. . But due to the regular training of the fire department and updates with water rescues, they were well equipped and ready to rescue the kayakers. “Anytime you have a situation where you have a positive result like that, it’s a good day,” Curran said.