Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Serve and Protect: Maine style

Tonight I went to vote on the school budget. When I gave my name, one of the poll workers said, "Mike Peterson, from the Franklin Journal?" I acknowledged that, and he said, "We were trying to get hold of you the other night, and we didn't have a phone number for you."

Turns out he was an off-duty Farmington police officer. About 10 days ago, the alarm at the office went off. The security company tried to call me, but I was covering a meeting. I discovered the message on my phone after I got home. I called the alarm company back, then called Dispatch. They told me a police officer had been sent to the office but found everything secure. I still went down to the office to have a look around, but life went on. We never did figure out what had set off the alarm.

When I told this to the guy at the polls, he said he'd been on duty at the meeting I was covering (it was a public hearing on the school budget) and had been called out to respond to the alarm. "You should have come back and gotten me," I said, and we laughed. But I gave him my cell number and he wrote it on a piece of paper.

Now Dispatch will know how to get hold of me in an emergency.

As we were talking, I remembered that I needed to talk to a sheriff's deputy I had failed to connect with during the day. We do a weekly summary of the department's activities, and one of the calls was a report of an intoxicated man who was arrested for firing a rifle "in the direction of a neighbor."

I was pretty sure they meant "a neighbor's house" but wanted to distinguish it from actually drawing a bead on the person. So, after I left the polling place, I called Dispatch and they connected me with one of the deputies who had gone on the call. Yes, he said, it was the house, not the individual. "Well, I didn't want to make it sound any more exciting than it was," I said, and he chuckled and observed that a drunk guy with a gun is pretty exciting to begin with.

But he also told me that the female deputy on the call, Heidi, had done a really good job of cooling things down. It turned out that she knew the family, she knew the young guy with the gun, and she was able to talk to them on a personal level and persuade him to come out and let her get things cooled out.

"She's, like, the queen of community policing, isn't she?" I asked with a laugh, because two months ago, she made an arrest of a burglar on her own (very rural) street. There was a guy who was a fugitive from Florida who was living in his pickup truck and burglarizing camps out in the boonies. Well, in a small town it doesn't take long to pick up on this stuff and so everyone knew to watch for a red Ford truck with Florida plates.

The police get a call one morning that the truck is in a driveway on a particular rural road. As it happens, Heidi lived a few houses down on the same road, and was home sick that day. A few houses the other direction was another deputy, David, who just happened to be home because it was his day off. Dispatch called the two of them at home, and Heidi and David just walked out their front doors, one turned left, one turned right, and they walked down the street and arrested the guy.

Now, obviously, there was some coincidence involved in this, and the police got a huge laugh out of the master criminal who chose to rob a house on that particular street. But the fact is, our police live among us. This is community policing.

I grew up with some of that: The state trooper in our town was married to the daughter of my second grade teacher. He was part of the community as a cop, but also as Mrs. Nolan's son-in-law. There's a bond there you can't get in a larger place, and it's the kind of bond that means that, when Heidi shows up on a call and finds a drunk guy firing off a gun, she can talk to him as a friend of the family.

So, now, about the picture at the top of this blog.

We have a couple of pretty sizable paper mills in the area. A truck from one of them was heading for Montreal a few weeks ago with a load of paper when he went off the shoulder, hit some soft dirt and rolled. The rolls of paper weigh about 700 pounds each, and they smashed through the side of the truck when it went over.

A wrecker came and got the 18-wheeler and hauled it off. The trucker was fine; he was standing across the road waiting for a ride home to Canada. But here were two dozen very heavy rolls of paper in the ditch. What to do?

What you're seeing in the picture is called a pulp loader, and it's an arm that is designed to pick up logs, three or four at a time, and load them into the truck. I suspect that the Canadians who designed that robotic arm for the shuttle had spent a little time in the woods, because it's very much the same thing.

In this case, one of the firefighters who responded to the accident was also a logger. That's him, sitting in the seat operating the pulp loader and, instead of wearing a conventional hard hat, wearing his firefighter's helmet. That's his truck and he just went home and got it, picked up the rolls, loaded them on his truck and hauled them away.

Saved the clean-up crew a tremendous amount of work, and it was a perfectly logical solution, though it was the first time that loader was used to haul the stuff after it was processed, instead of well before.

I ran the picture on the front page with the slug "Maine problem, Maine solution." People thought it was pretty funny. But, hey, it's just part of how people solve problems around here.


ronnie said...

The ingenuity of small town people - ingenuity born of not having a lot of fancy resources or even resources, period, at your fingertips - never ceases to amaze me. It's a pragmatic approach to life that is also given a nod in a running gag on the Prarie comedy "Corner Gas". One of the locals owns two franchises - an insurance agency and a liquor sales outlet. They're housed in the same building - the owner's house - and people walking in are greeted with a cheery, "Insurance or liquor?"

How this odd (and even conflicting) pair of services came to be offered under the same roof is never explained in the series. It's not necessary. If you know small towns, you know how it happened. Guy looking to make a living saw two holes - and filled them. :)


Uncle Jed said...

Well Ronnie, my favorite is Dick's Oasis, about 30 minutes from my house. They offer the four Gs:


There is actually a long-standing relationship between logging and the fire service. Most hand tools on your local fire engine are adaptations of logging tools. Axes and chainsaws, of course, but even the "hook" (of hook & ladder fame) is a modified Peavy.