Friday, May 28, 2021

Memorial Day recalls ultimate sacrifices made by military on behalf of nation

A large American flag flies on the grounds of Camping World
on Route 302 in Windham. A number of Memorial Day activities
are scheduled in Windham on Memorial Day, including a parade,
a bell ceremony at Windham High School, and a picnic
luncheon at the Windham Veterans Center. 
PHOTO BY ED PIERCE
By Ed Pierce

As many of us use the Memorial Day Weekend to mark the official launch of summer, the Memorial Day holiday itself is steeped in tradition and remembrances that pay tribute to those who gave their lives in defense of freedom.

Legends passed down through the generations suggest that General John A. Logan, commander of the Civil War veterans organization known as The Grand Army of the Republic, came up with the idea in 1868 for a national day of commemoration for soldiers who lost their lives in battle. He called this “Decoration Day” and recommended that Americans everywhere take time to pause and reflect on May 30, 1868 about the courage and valor these men demonstrated with flowers and prayer.

Newspaper accounts of the time reported that Logan selected May 30 as the date for “Decoration Day” because it was not a day that a Civil War battle had been fought, while others speculated it allowed for spring flowers to reach full bloom and be in plentiful supply.

Logan himself served with distinction during the war, sustaining serious wounds at the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862. After regaining his health, Logan, whose nickname was "Black Jack," became a command officer and served under Union generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Ulysses S. Grant.
 
He later served Illinois as a member of the House of Representatives and as a U.S. Senator and joined Maine’s James G. Blaine on the Republican ticket as vice presidential candidate in 1884, which lost the election to the Democrats, led by Grover Cleveland.

Upon his death in 1886, Logan became one of just 40 Americans who have laid in state in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, the latest being U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last fall.

For more than 100 years, Americans came to cherish “Decoration Day” and used the occasion to commemorate all of those who perished during American wars.

In 1972, the federal government’s Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved “Decoration Day” from May 30 to the last Monday in May with the new official name of “Memorial Day.” Reasons given for the change were to standardize the holiday to a Monday since May 30 could fall on any day of the week.

Coming out of the pandemic this year, Memorial Day activities in Windham will be hosted by the American Legion and are designed to allow the public to observe Memorial Day more traditionally, says David Tanguay, adjutant for the Legion’s Field -Allen Post 148.

“Please join the community and the Legion this Memorial Day, May 31, in the more traditional festivities,” Tanguay said. “For years the Field-Allen Post has been the architect of the Town’s Memorial Day events. It most likely has been longer, but I’ve only been involved for the past 27 years.”

Tanguay said that preparation work for the Memorial Day events has been completed.

“In early May, flags were hung on the utility poles around the town’s highways and byways. New flags were needed as well as ordering some 950 flags placed on the graves of our fallen veterans,” Tanguay said. “Since 2005 the Legion has placed 100 flags around town in preparation for the summer and Memorial Day. The flags went up this year on the weekend of May 22 and the program is a collaboration between the Town of Windham and the Legion. The Town purchases the flags on a triennial cycle and the Post provides the hardware and manpower to place the flags. The flags fly until Labor Day.”

A Memorial Day parade begins at 9 a.m. Monday from the Windham Town Hall and proceeds onto Route 202 in the direction of the High School.

Tanguay said that the best vantage point for viewing the parade is from the area around the intersection of Windham Center Road and Route 202.

“We will be using the Korean War era M-37 Truck for our veterans. The parade is not limited to a specific war era, any veteran who would like to march with the Legion or VFW component is welcome,” Tanguay said. “All groups or individuals desiring to join the parade should meet and check in by 8:45 in front of the Town Hall on School Road.”

The parade terminates at the Town’s Veterans Memorial Flag Pole at Windham High School. At 10 a.m. Memorial Day ceremonies commence with guest speaker U.S. Army Major Brenda Pennels, who is currently serving as Maine’s Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the U S Army (CASA).

Master of ceremonies at the event will be American Legion Post 148 Commander Eric Bickford, who will coordinate the ceremonial events including a ceremonial wreath laying, the bell tolling for lost veterans from the community this year, a ceremonial burning of flags removed from local veterans’ graves, and a traditional rifle salute and the playing of “Taps.”

“Last on the agenda is an open house at noon at the Windham Veterans Center with a picnic style luncheon open to the public hosted by the Field-Allen Post,” Tanguay said. “There will be a brief recognition ceremony prior to the picnic in the Windham Veterans Center Memorial Garden with a dedication of a granite bench to one of our own World War II veterans, the late John Cooper of Windham. Following the ceremony, a picnic luncheon will be provided.”

During the picnic lunch, poppies to wear in remembrance of veterans will be available to anyone who wants one on a donation-only basis. Donations from the poppies will be used for local veterans’ support.

The practice of remembering veterans by wearing poppies in Windham dates to 1920. The red poppy is a nationally recognized symbol of sacrifice worn by Americans since World War I to honor those who served and died for our country in all wars. It reminds Americans of the sacrifices made by our veterans while protecting our freedoms.

All the events are free and open to the public. <

Windham on verge of purchasing new fire rescue-pumper truck

If voters at Windham's annual town meeting approve a Fiscal
Year 2022 bond proposal next month, the town will order and
purchase a new an efficient E-One Rsecue-Pumper similar
to the one shown to replace two older fire department vehicles.
COURTESY PHOTO   
VEHICLE TO BE ORDERED IF VOTERS APPROVE BOND PROPOSAL IN JUNE 

By Ed Pierce

Should residents attending Windham’s annual town meeting on June 12 approve the town’s Fiscal Year 2022 bond proposal, firefighting in Windham is about to get much more efficient and safer with the purchase of a new E-One Rescue-Pumper.

Windham Fire Rescue Chief Brent Libby says that the new vehicle will cost $625,000 and will be ordered from Greenwood Emergency Vehicles, which won the Request for Proposals bidding for the new vehicle earlier this year.

Libby said $75,000 of the new fire truck’s cost was included in the fire department’s 2021 budget and the remaining $550,000 is included in Windham’s 2022 budget.

“This new vehicle will replace two trucks and turn them into one,” Libby said. “One of those trucks is a 2001 Heavy Rescue vehicle that we use as a squad truck. It’s really a toolbox on wheels and the Jaws of Life is stored in it. The other vehicle it will replace is a 1994 International Fire Engine.

According to Libby, once the new E-One Rescue-Pumper has been ordered, it takes one year for the company to build and deliver it to the town.

During a Windham Town Council meeting on May 11, councilors voted unanimously to include the new fire truck in the 2022 bond proposal to be voted on at the town meeting.

The E-One Rescue Pumper offers fire departments enhanced capabilities by featuring a large cab, the most available compartment space in the industry, 1,500 gallons per minute pump, a 1,000-gallon water tank, LED scene lighting, storage for hydraulics and battery powered extraction equipment, and seating for six firefighters.

“Right now, we’re responding to scenes with both vehicles and that takes drivers for both vehicles,” Libby said. “By putting all of the crew in one vehicle, it is much more efficient.”

The inclusion of state-of-the-art LED scene lighting will be a significant improvement over the existing lighting capability of the 1994 International Fire Engine, the fire chief said.

Once the new vehicle is delivered, Libby said that Windham firefighters will receive a minimum of four sessions of in-service training on the E-One Rescue-Pumper provided by Greenwood Emergency Vehicles. Windham crews also will receive additional training on driving a pumper truck and other aspects unique to the new truck.

Windham currently has three other E-One trucks which haven’t experienced any mechanical issues, but another E-One ladder truck was disposed of earlier this year because it had maintenance problems, Libby said.

Nonetheless, Libby said he expects this new E-One Rescue-Pumper to be free of maintenance issues and be put into service by Windham around July 2022.

“This will allow us to consolidate two vehicles into one,” Libby said. “This will help with maintenance and our operation. We’ll be able to put our crew into one truck with the equipment we need. I’m confident from an emergency standpoint and operationally this is the way to proceed.”

The E-One Rescue-Pumper is equipped with a custom chassis with an interior meant to withstand the rigors of severe duty. It has a Cummins L9 45-horsepowered engine and an Allison EVS-3000 transmission. The body is all stainless steel with internal storage for ladders and suction hoses. It includes 12-year paint and 20-year structural warranties.

The town plans to sell the vehicles being replaced to other fire departments in the state once the new E-One Rescue-Pumper is delivered and placed into service. The new truck also will fit inside the new Windham Public Safety Building, Libby said.

“It’s important that we have community support for this,” Libby said. “We are grateful and appreciate the support of the public that is there when we need them and likewise, we are there when the public needs us.” <   

Friday, May 21, 2021

Inspiring teen overcomes disability to shine light on autism in Windham

Rosemary Haibon,, 18, a senior at Windham
High School, recently conducted a fundraiser
and solicited donations from area nurseries
to help autistic residents of group homes in
Windham to plant gardens. She is Miss
Maine Sweetheart and was diagnosed with
autism in sixth grade. She will graduate from
high school next month and plans to become
a physical therapist. COURTESY PHOTO
By Ed Pierce     

Rosemary Haibon is living proof that having a disability doesn’t limit your willingness to care about others in need or what you can accomplish in life.

Haibon, 18, will be graduating from Windham High School next month and was first diagnosed with autism as she was getting ready to go into sixth grade. Rather than dwell or despair about her diagnosis, she learned to adapt and excel, winning the title of Miss Maine Sweetheart and then raising money to help others coping with autism in Windham.

 

Autism is a bio-neurological developmental disability that generally appears in childhood and impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction, communication skills and cognitive function.

“While in the beginning, I was embarrassed to have that label, now looking back, it truly helped me have the assistance in my education that I needed,” Rosemary Haibon said.

 

Once her high school education ends, she plans to attend the University of Southern Maine for Applied Exercise Sciences and then transfer to the University of New England to earn a Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy.

 

“I'm going into this field because of a wonderful therapist I saw for a very long time. I began seeing her when I was a little kid, and I loved going to visit her office,” she said. “I have something called Periodic Fever Syndrome, which is very similar to arthritis. My joints were in constant pain, and she helped me not be in pain anymore. I hope to do her proud and hope to be just like her when I go into my career.”  


Winning the Miss Maine Sweetheart crown almost happened to her by accident.

“I came to be a part of the Miss Maine Sweetheart program due to another program called the Miss Sensational program. The Miss Sensational program was to help girls with disabilities grow to be more confident. One of the girls who helped us was currently a Sweetheart and introduced me to her,” Rosemary Haibon said. “That was the moment I became a part of the Sweetheart family. The director insisted I compete for her, and when I was crowned, it was a moment I will never forget. I remember looking up and seeing my mom be excited and cheering for me and I was so excited that all my hard work paid off. It was a truly emotional moment for me.” 

 

Rosemary’s mother, Mary Haibon, has played a huge role in helping her reach for the stars and make her dreams for the future come true. An example of that unwavering commitment was her guidance regarding the Miss Maine Sweetheart Pageant.

 

“The pageant is organized and run well. The expectations of each contestant are very clear. We made a checklist of things she needed to have, like different dresses/outfits, things for talent and things she should be practicing such as her walk and answering questions from her resume,” Mary Haibon said. “I don’t have a lot of experience in the pageant world, so the best way I felt I could help Rosie was to support her emotionally. I gave many reminders that, although winning would be great, having the experience is a wonderful gift and to enjoy her time there. We were thrilled when she won. She worked so hard getting ready for the competition and it was wonderful to see her hard work pay off for her.”

 

Knowing some of the struggles those with autism deal with, Rosemary Haibon chose to champion fundraising activities for the autistic in Windham and to work with local nurseries in helping group home residents start their own gardens.

 

“Due to COVID, I couldn't exactly go out and meet with nurseries and people in person. Luckily social media helped me tremendously,” she said. “Through Facebook and Instagram, I was able to promote my cause and fundraising. In total, I raised $265 dollars and received eight item donations. I had my closest friends share my posts on social media as well, sharing it to their friends as well. It feels really good, it fills me with a warmth in my chest. Doing good deeds have always made me feel good, even just little things. Knowing that I can personally relate to my cause and who I'm doing it for, it makes me feel good knowing I'm doing something they will love, it makes me feel happy and smiley. I hope they enjoy putting them to use as much as I enjoyed putting this project together for them and doing something that I love.” 

 

Her mother said she’s proud of what her daughter has accomplished so far and how she’s brought awareness to autism to her classmates and the community. 

“I take comfort in knowing that the more people who understand individuals with autism, the more opportunities and acceptance will happen for those individuals. We have a number of family members, including Rosie and her sister on the autism spectrum and I think it’s important for others to understand that individuals with autism have so much to offer society,” Mary Haibon said. “I think there is a lot of talk publicly about autism without a lot of understanding what that really means. People with autism are a very diverse group of individuals with many talents, interests and abilities. In my experience, people who are not familiar with individuals with autism tend to think that all people with autism should speak or act a certain way and that’s just not true. Children with autism grow up to be adults with autism and need just as much understanding and support. They deserve to be accepted and given opportunities to show their unique abilities.”

Misty Niman, Director of Quality Assurance for Port Resources, which operates several group homes for those with autism in Windham, said Rosemary Haibon has been a blessing for the company and its work here.

“It’s very uplifting to see this young, motivated woman care about the work that we do here at Port Resources. In addition to our many programs throughout Southern Maine, our company has several homes in Windham, and we are always looking for creative ways to do so much with so little. Gardening is an unfunded activity but is so good for the soul,” Niman said. “She is a gem. She was so professional and really is a role model for others. She put her big heart and her motivation to work for a great cause – as we all should.”

Niman said that the autism sector of healthcare is often overlooked.

“Port Resources employs over 200 people and has become a second family to many of our employees and the people we serve. However, our industry is suffering the worst staffing shortage in my lifetime. Educating the community about who we are and what we do right here for Windham residents is so important,” she said. “We are very thankful for Rosie’s work and for the entire Haibon family. I personally am thankful to share this community with a family like theirs.”

Rosemary Habon said that her parents are very proud of the work she’s done for the cause.

 

“They're always proud of the work I do, big or small, but having them know it's something that makes me happy and something I'm passionate about and connect with, it makes them happy and that in turn makes me feel even better about the work I am doing for my community,” she said. “Just because people have autism, it doesn't mean they should be treated any differently. I find that just because my brain functions differently from my other family members or my friends, it doesn't change the fact that I am still a human being with emotions and thoughts. I should not be treated differently from someone else because of a disability.” < 

WHS graduate’s capstone project will continue to offer creative connections for future students

By Lorraine Glowczak

2021 Windham High graduate Sophie Phipps
is the founder of the school's Creative Writing
Club, open to all students. The club has offered
an opportunity for social connections for
students during the pandemic.
MEGAN HATCH PHOTO   

Writing can be a very solitary adventure, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many writers, whether professional or otherwise, become a part of a writing group to work on individual projects, meet goals, or join to be with others who share a passion for the creatively written word.

In the fall of 2019 during her junior year, Windham High School (WHS) student, Sophie Phipps wanted to join a creative writing club for the very reasons listed above. “I wanted to hold myself accountable to write more, as writing is something I love to do but never manage to make time for,” Phipps said. Unfortunately, she soon discovered there was no such group available at the school.

In an article published in the Jan. 16, 2020 edition of The Windham Eagle newspaper, written by Ryan Lowell, Phipps stated that she discovered her love for creative writing in the seventh grade when she was seeking an emotional outlet after the death of her grandfather.

“It was the first major grief I’d felt in my life. I was overwhelmed by everything I felt and [I was] determined to figure out how to deal with my grief,” Phipps said during that interview. She wrote a short descriptive story about her “Papa” in English class and was moved to tears by putting her fond memories into words. “When my piece was finished, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt completely soothed and content and fell fast asleep that night. It was this experience that taught me the catharsis of creative writing. Personally, writing has stuck out to me as a passion ever since.”

Because a creative writing club was not available, Phipps began researching ways to create a successful and fun organization that students could enjoy, bearing in mind collaboration and inclusivity. With the assistance of Ryan Lowell, former WHS Journalism/English Teacher, she officially began the WHS Creative Writing Club later that fall. It was an immediate success, with approximately 12 students meeting on a weekly basis.

It was through this success that Phipps began to consider the Creative Writing Club as a possible Capstone Project, a required academic assignment to be completed prior to graduation. A capstone project’s mission is described as: “to identify an existing problem in a real-world setting and find a way to develop a solution to address the problem directly.” The student is often encouraged to participate in the project they are enthusiastic about and has the potential of helping the community in some way.

“I met with Lanet Anthony [Director of Community Connections] who guides us with our projects, and she gave me the greenlight, saying that the Creative Writing Club met all the requirements of a Capstone Project,” Phipps said. “I thought, ‘Sweet! Two birds with one stone!’”

Since its inception, the Creative Writing Club has not only been a success with highly involved active membership for over a year that will continue after Phipps graduates next month - but has achieved a great deal of success in multiple ways, despite the pandemic.

“I have been beyond impressed with how these students, led by Sophie, have devoted their free time to artistic cultivation,” said WHS English Teacher and Creative Writing Club Advisor, Chelsea Scott. “This is time they could literally use for anything else, yet they chose to spend it on Google Meets, writing and responding to each other's developing work. Students would come in each week with fully formed stories or poetry and would also write on the spot in response to prompts. They gave mature, compassionate, and whip-smart feedback that fueled each other's progress and ultimately, I think, drew them back each week.”

Scott also said that self-expression, even if no one else sees what the writer creates, can be so healing. “Sustaining a reliable container for students to explore through writing seemed like a necessary support, especially in these times,” she said. “These kids also have amazing senses of humor. We have fun, whether in-person or on screens!”

Phipps is very appreciative of Scott’s support of the Creative Writing Club, who became the new advisor after Lowell relocated to Western Maine and now teaches at a high school there.

“Ms. Scott has been instrumental in making the Creative Writing Club a success during the pandemic. She kept our spirits up and helped to make this experience fun, inclusive and collaborative. I really appreciate all her effort.”

Sophie Phipps will graduate next month on Sunday, June 13 ranked third of her class. She will attend Brown University this fall, with a concentration in Biology. Her goal is to become a research scientist and a tenured professor, for both of which the acquired skill of writing and publishing is a must. Phipps currently writes poetry and realistic flash fiction. <

Friday, May 14, 2021

Local storm chasers defy danger to experience devastating twisters up close

The Fickett brothers took this photograph of
a tornado touching down in 2015 in Stephenville,
Texas. The brothers started storm chasing in 2010
and have returned every year since then to the
Southeastern U.S. as storm spotters for the
National Weather Service. Follow their adventures
on Facebook at F2 Storm Chasing.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
LAKES REGION TWINS HAVE MADE ANNUAL SPRING TREK TO TORNADO ALLEY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE

By Ed Pierce

It’s been said that there are some things you learn best in calm, and some in the path of devastating storms. If you ask the twin Fickett brothers from the Lakes Region, they prefer the storms.

The 46-year-old Fickett brothers, Jim, a fishing guide on Sebago Lake from Gorham, and Don, who lives in Windham and works for Hood dairy, are storm chasers and have made the drive every spring to Tornado Alley in the Southeastern U.S. for a week’s worth of adventure since 2010. The brothers have recently returned to Maine from their annual trek south which started on April 30 and took them to five states and the spotting of two separate tornados.

They say they became storm chasers because they admire the beauty in severe weather, and tornados are unlike other weather phenomena they’ve experienced in Maine.  

“It all started for us when my twin brother and I were kids and we loved the movie ‘Twister’ when it first came out,” said Jim Fickett. “My brother has a Corvette and wanted to visit the factory in Tennessee. We decided to take a week off and combine it with seeing if we could spot any severe storms and tornados. The first few times we went we learned that Mother Nature has to cooperate and when that didn’t happen, we ended up going to major league baseball games instead.”

To better prepare for being in the middle of severe weather, the brothers took a course online and became registered “storm spotters,” individuals who report supercells and dangerous weather formations to the National Weather Service (NWS) and emergency management programs. They also use an app on their phone called “RadarScope” which displays super resolution radar data and predicted storm tracks.

Scientists say that tornados develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of approaching cold fronts. Thunderstorms that produce tornados also may generate large hail and damaging winds. Intense spring storm systems often yield vast areas of the midwestern and southeastern U.S. that support tornado development, leading to major outbreaks. Most tornados have forward wind speeds ranging from stationary to about 70 mph and they rotate cyclonically with wind speeds typically ranging from 40 to 110 mph, although some have clocked in at more than 300 mph. 

The destructive force of a tornado does not rely on its size or shape, rather it is based upon intensity, with storms rated on the Fujita Scale of F0 (wind speeds of 73 mph) to a highly destructive F5 (268 to 318 mph).

Safety is paramount during their trips as the brothers say they’ve encountered multiple supercells, dodged hail and swirling bursts of dust and driven through pounding rainstorms during their travels through some of the southeastern U.S.

“We have people we care about and we’re not crazy, our safety is the most important thing first and foremost,” Jim Fickett said. “We’ve learned that most storms travel west to east. Supercells happen on the southwest side of storms, so we try and stay on the safe side of them. We can see them through the app and the wind side and the wind speed. As long as we’re not in the storm’s path on the outside of the storm, we’re OK. Going through severe storms, you become witnesses to weather phenomena and it’s amazing to experience something like that.”

This year’s trip took the twin brothers to Nashville, Tennessee and then on into Louisiana as they chased potential storms. Many of their photos from the trip are posted on their Facebook page F2 storm chasers.

“On Sunday, May 2, we got to Byram, Mississippi, just south of Brandon just before a tornado struck there,” Jim Fickett said. “We saw the funnel clouds. We then followed a line of storms and kept on going toward Arkansas and then on into Texas. South of Dallas, we intercepted a storm and lightning illuminated a tornado in the night sky plain to see.”

The brothers say that since they’ve become storm chasers and storm spotters, they’ve compiled a list of lessons that they’ve learned along the way.

“We’ve learned that Mother Nature is unpredictable,” Jim Fickett said. “We’ve learned to check the sheets in cheap motels for bedbugs, how gasoline is priced differently in different places, and I’ve learned that my brother Don is an amazing driver and that we work well together.”

The Ficketts say that storm chasing for them is more about experiencing the sheer power of nature rather than about the adrenaline rush that they may experience in the approach of a tornado.           

“Being a storm chaser, you have to be in the right place at the right time and even with all the tools we possess and knowing the power of what Mother Nature can do, we’ve learned that nothing on Earth can be done to stop a tornado, you just have to stay out of its way,” Jim Fickett said. “We give our mother a heart attack almost every year.” <

'Over the Edge' rapelling event to support veterans

The 'Over the Edge' event featuring sponsored participants
and teams rappelling down the side of the Key Bank
building in Portland will be conducted June 19 to raise
money for Veterans Count, an organization that assists 
veterans in Maine. COURTESY PHOTO  
By Ed Pierce

Having worn the uniform of the United States of America at one point in their lives or having grown up in a military family, two local men know first-hand the hardship and sacrifices made by veterans to keep our nation safe. As part of Veterans Count Maine, an organization that supports veterans causes statewide, Raymond attorney Todd Crawford and Windham resident Dennis Brown are gearing up for a unique fundraising event that will send participants “Over the Edge” in June.

The “Over the Edge” event is scheduled for June 19 and will see   sponsored participants rappelling down the side of the Key Bank building at Two Canal Plaza in Portland.

Crawford served in the U.S. Navy and the Maine Army National Guard, retiring from the guard as a commissioned officer after 28 years. Both he and Brown sit on the board of directors for Veterans Count and say they believe the “Over the Edge” fundraiser will raise awareness of the struggles some veterans face in Maine and raise money to fund programs that assist veterans.

“As a veteran, this program struck a chord with me and has helped me perpetuate ‘the mission’ of taking care of our troops,” Crawford said. “Veterans Count raises funds that fill the gaps where the VA or other community supports may be unable to support.  Working with Veterans Count is part of my mission to make our home a place worthy of their sacrifice.”

Each participant must raise $1,000 to go “over the edge” with the overall goal of raising about $90,000 by the end of the event.

According to Crawford, the public is encouraged to participate and show support for veterans either by sponsoring rappelers or coming out to cheer on participants at the event.

“I think the biggest issue that veterans face is reintegration,” Crawford said. “Communities have become decentralized over many years, so the usual social supports are not available to many returning veterans. Add to that the issues of trauma, silent injuries, and the loss of the military culture that make reintegrating home extremely difficult. Veterans Count is the fundraising arm of Easterseals Military and Veterans Services, which include a platoon of ‘Care Coordinators’ who are the real heroes in this story. They continue to search out homeless veterans, save lives by diverting suicide, and provide case management services to those in needs. In addition, funds are available the give veterans and their families a ‘hand up’ during critical times.  These issues have not diminished over the years.  We are still very much fighting to serve our veterans who have served our country.”

Brown is not a veteran himself but grew up the son of a World War II veteran during the Vietnam War and says that veterans are deserving of everyone’s support and especially through fundraising efforts like the “Over the Edge” event.

“This is the biggest fundraising event we have in this calendar year, and I wanted to be a part of it.  Military personnel in harm’s way experience a great deal of stress and uneasiness.  Going over the edge will let me experience for a few minutes what must have been constant for our military personnel and just anticipating what the first few seconds of going over will feel like is encouraging me to raise as much money for the cause as I can. I’m hoping to make sure that Veterans Count, Easterseals Maine’s Military and Veterans Services, has enough funds to address every need that presents itself and no vet or family is left hanging.”

He said that issues that veterans face daily in Maine are complex and challenging.

“There are many issues from PTSD, just adapting to civilian life after a long term in the service, Vietnam vets who were never offered the help we provide to more recent veterans, dealing with the VA,” Brown said. “Most veterans we see who are looking for help have more than just one problem.  Our care coordinators are outstanding in assessing the issues both with the veteran and their families.  We address family issues as much as the veteran themself.”

Maine started providing veterans services while Brown was board chair of Easterseals Maine about seven years ago.  

“One board member came to me with a veteran who needed help while we were just starting to consider adopting Veterans Count.  That veteran has been seriously injured in a training exercise that totally destroyed one of his knees.  He had been receiving disability benefits but was informed that the VA wanted to review his case, and that during the review, his disability payments would be stopped,” Brown said.  “When he asked how long the review would take, he was told that it would take six months to two years. The veteran then asked how he’d pay his rent for his home with his wife and 1-year-old child, the VA rep was trying to be helpful in offering that there’s a really good homeless shelter in Brunswick that he could recommend.  When I heard that, my immediate response was ‘not on my watch.’  We found some funds to provide Walmart gift cards for food and staples.  We also reached out to Easterseals NH who had started the Veterans Count program, learned that they had a care coordinator who lived in Maine that they would provide to help us out.  

“The care coordinator was great, explained to the veteran what he needed to do to prepare for a meeting with the VA.  He got copies of every document that the VA had on his case, and the care coordinator and the veterans met with the VA rep in charge of the investigation,” Brown said. “Within about 15 minutes, all the VA rep’s questions were answered, the disability checks were reinstated, and a letter of apology was sent to the veteran from the VA.  That was our first involvement, and our care coordinators have been working similar miracles ever since.”

Brown’s personal fundraising goal for “Over the Edge” is $1,200 but he expects to top $4,000 by the day of the event.

“First, it’s a great organization working for a great cause,” he said.  How can we not support our veterans?  Second, what a spectacular event.  If you’re a thrill seeker, this event is hard to beat.  Jump on board, raise some money and have the best thrill you can get in downtown Portland.”

To sign up to sponsor a rappeler at “Over the Edge” or to register to be a rappeler, visit https://vetscount.org/maine/ <

Friday, May 7, 2021

‘Slow Down Move Over’ violators put first responders’ lives at risk

Drivers in Windham and throughout Maine are ignoring the
'Slow Down Move Over' law first enacted in 2007. It mandates
that motorists slow down or pull over if they encounter a 
stopped or parked emergency vehicle and violators are 
posing significant risk to first responders.
COURTESY OF  ROAD ASSIST EMERGENCY SERVICES
  
By Ed Pierce

Every day, drivers in Windham and throughout Maine ignore the “Slow Down, Move Over” law posing a significant risk for first responders and other emergency personnel.

Enacted in 2007, the law mandates that drivers slow down and or pull over if they encounter a stopped or parked emergency vehicle. If drivers see flashing lights and fail to respond appropriately, they can be issued a summons and fined $326 for not doing so under the law.   

Under Title 29-A §2054-9 MRSA, drivers passing a parked emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated must pass in a lane that is not adjacent to the vehicle or, if doing so is unsafe or impossible, must pass at a careful and prudent speed. In this context, “emergency vehicle” includes, but is not limited to, police cruisers, ambulances, fire trucks, tow trucks, wreckers, and highway safety vehicles. 

This law helps to ensure our safety. When working at an emergency scene, we often have to move around our apparatus to get the equipment needed,” said Brent Libby, Windham Fire-Rescue chief. “We also are moving around the scene to treat patients, remove debris, contain spills etc.  which can be spread out larger than it may seem. The move over law ensures that we have a safe space to operate in.”

Libby said many first responders witness drivers who disregard this law and violations happen on a daily basis.

“Whether it is a medical call, a motor vehicle crash, or a grass fire, motorists are often trying to squeeze around our apparatus, which often creates a blind spot for them,” he said. “The law applies to all emergency vehicles on all roads and requires the drivers to use the other lane to get around.” 

According to Libby, unfortunately there just aren’t resources available to enforce the law.

“Often law enforcement is involved in and committed to the incident we are on. In extreme scenarios someone can get the license plate and report it but otherwise we simply have to remain vigilant,” he said. “I will say there are many instances where we will simply close a road down completely for our safety and the safety of those involved knowing that due to traffic volume and inattention, moving traffic through a scene would just be too dangerous.”

Kyle Snyder, Road Assist Emergency Services operations manager, said that every single day, he or one of his technicians are on the side of the road helping a stranded motorist and most motorists do not understand that by slowing down, and moving over, this provides them with the protection to do their jobs safely.

“This law is in place for police, fire, EMS, and yes, even tow providers. At the end of the day, we want to go home to our families, and we cannot do that if we are injured or killed by someone not paying attention and not following the law,” Snyder said.

Snyder said that out of the 131 calls that he completed in April, he counted 60 times that a driver failed to slow down or move over for him.

“That is 46 percent of calls that I have personally completed. We have forward and rear facing cameras in our trucks that record our work areas. As the operations manager I am constantly reviewing footage and making sure my drivers are following our safety protocols,” he said. “I have watched quite a few videos that would make any normal person who does not do this job shake their head in disbelief. Now imagine your job is to be on the side of the road every day, and in the back of your mind, you are wondering if it is your last.”

Snyder said he feels 95 percent of drivers violating the law is because of distracted driving.

"Drivers are not keeping their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. If they are distracted by the phone, or using their touch screen/GPS, it takes 27 seconds for you to refocus on the road after stopping that distracting activity,” he said. “During that 27 seconds, you are already in our work zone. I also think that 5 percent stems from some people not understanding that the law pertains to yellow flashing lights as much as blue and red. However, this law is not new, it was passed in 2007, some 14 years ago and all 50 states have some version of this law.”

About 10:30 p.m. April 24, in dry and clear road conditions, Snyder was assisting the Maine State Police, Rays Towing, and Maine DOT at a crash on I-95 North Bound in Scarborough.

“There were two Maine State Police cars, a DOT truck, and two tow trucks on scene blocking the left and middle lanes. Numerous people were not paying attention and were moving over at the very last minute,” Snyder said. “I had three cones and three flares behind my vehicle, the DOT truck was to my left, and the MSP was in front conducting their investigation. My cones got hit a few times, and numerous tractor trailer trucks went by us at a high rate of speed.”

As police conducted a crash investigation, EMS workers treated injuries, DOT checked barriers for structural damage, and tow companies cleaned up the crash scen. Snyder said the story could have ended very differently for him.

“I was standing on the driver side of my emergency vehicle when a vehicle came right at me, taking out two cones and three 3 flares before finally stopping between my unit and the DOT unit,” he said. “This driver was cited for DUI and arrested. If I would have hesitated for even a second, I would not be here today to tell this story. That is the kind of stuff emergency responders deal with every single day, and so we ask the public to do their part.”

Snyder said he thinks the law needs to be strengthened and enforced better.

“Lives are at risk here when someone does not follow this law. People think that they can get away with it because they are never caught,” he said. “Whenever you are on the road, you have other people’s lives in your hands. In a work zone, we don’t have a cage protecting us, so one mistake can cost a life. We have seen a couple of instances in the last few years. A DOT worker was killed in 2018 while moving traffic cones in a construction zone. Detective Ben Campbell of the Maine State Police was killed honorably in the line of duty from a tire that separated from a truck. Things happen that we can’t predict, but drivers moving over or slowing down is something that we all can do to save a life.”

Chief Libby said many times working in the roadway is as dangerous for firefighters and EMTs as it is working on a fire.

“We do our very best to clean up an incident as quickly as possible to get out of the road. We ask that people are patient, be aware of what’s going on at the scene as there is always a lot of movement,” Libby said. “Look for someone doing traffic control providing you with instructions. I can’t tell you how many people we see driving through a crash scene with their phone out getting pictures and video. It is imperative that people approach and pass by a scene very slowly with a defensive posture ready to stop on a moment’s notice. Put down your devises and slow down.”

Libby said that as a first responder firefighter, one of their most dangerous and frustrating jobs is directing traffic.

“People in this role are our first line of defense for those working on the scene and people just do not pay attention,” he said. “We also challenge people to know more than one way to get where they are going. People often stop to ask directions when we are blocking a road. This further complicates safely moving traffic.” <

Windham student receives DoD’s SMART Scholarship

Sierra Yost of Windham, a first-year doctoral student in
chemical engineering at Penn State, received the U.S.
Department of Defense's Science, Mathematics and Research 
for Transformation (SMART) Scholarship. She is a 2016
graduate of Windham High School and was honored as the
College of Engineering's valedictorian at the University
of Maine at Orono for the graduating class of 2020.
SUBMITTED PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Sierra Yost of Windham as she’s gone from being honored as the 2020 College of Engineering’s valedictorian at the University of Maine at Orono to completing the first year of a graduate student doctoral program at Penn State University, but there was one more surprise in store for her. Yost found out last month she has been awarded the Department of Defense Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation Scholarship.

Recipients of the SMART award receive full tuition for up to five years, summer internships, a stipend and full-time employment with the Department of Defense after graduation. The unique opportunity provides high-achieving students with hands-on experience at one of the nation’s most innovative Army, Navy, Air Force and larger Department of Defense laboratories and working under an experienced mentor, gaining valuable technical skills.

Since its inception, the SMART Scholarship Program has awarded more than 3,000 SMART scholarships and supported more than 2,000 graduates from 409 universities as they launch professional careers working for the Department of Defense.

Yost, 23, will intern at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery each summer until graduation from Penn State and then will be hired for a full-time position there after earning her doctorate.

“I was absolutely shocked when I found out about it,” Yost said. “I first heard about this scholarship opportunity when I was applying to a different grad school.” 

She applied for the SMART Scholarship last fall and said she considers it an honor to be a recipient of this distinction.

I am excited to be a part of the innovation and advancements made in DoD labs both during my internships and full-employment after graduation,” Yost said.

During her internship at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard this summer, Yost will perform materials research with an emphasis on quality assurance. She is working on obtaining a doctorate in chemical engineering focusing on increasing the capabilities of advanced manufacturing using functional polymers.

The Department of Defense is the largest employer of scientists and engineers in the nation with nearly 300,000 STEM professionals. For more than a decade, SMART has trained a highly skilled STEM workforce that competes with the evolving trends of industry to support the next generation of science and technology for our nation.

The SMART Scholarship-for-Service Program is a combined educational and workforce development opportunity for bachelor’s degree, masters’ degree and doctoral students to gain valuable technical skills in critical STEM fields and support the national security mission of the Department of Defense.

Yost is a 2016 graduate of Windham High School where she said that she was inspired to study chemical engineering after taking the AP Chemistry class there taught by former WHS teacher Lisa McClellan.  

In her free time, Yost is an avid runner and volunteers for the youth track program at Penn State.

“I also like doing most everything outdoors,” she said. “I enjoy hiking, skiing, fishing and kayaking.”

She’s excited about returning to Maine this summer and looking forward to her new internship at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

“I also am very excited to do what I can to help the Department of Defense as a civilian,” Yost said.

According to Yost, her primary goal though is to complete her studies and to start her career.

“My ultimate goal is to work for DoD or in the paper industry,” she said. “I just want to make new things and make a difference.” <