Following accident, Conway Selectboard talks river safety, town policies

Staff Writer
Published: 8/14/2020 2:10:09 PM
Modified: 8/14/2020 2:09:57 PM

CONWAY — An accident involving a youth on South River last month has Selectboard members reviewing town policies and revisiting river safety concerns.

“It took our rescuers — not only Conway Fire but South Deerfield Fire assisted us and South County ambulance — an hour and half to get the young man’s foot out of the crevice so we could get him out of the water,” said Fire Chief Robert Baker.

The boy was sliding down a popular section of the river near Reeds Bridge Road on July 23 when his foot got caught between rocks, according to Baker. While his father held his head above water, his brother called 911. First responders were eventually able to extricate his ankle from the rocks, and he was transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital by South County EMS.

“We were very much concerned about him and the other rescuers,” Baker said. “The water temperature, even though it was summer time, was quite cool.”

At a Selectboard meeting earlier this month, Selectboard Chair Bob Armstrong asked Baker if there was anything the town should be doing or thinking about to lower the risk of such accidents.

Baker said many residents have approached him about posting signs to warn of dangerous swimming areas — but whether they can do that often comes down to an issue of private verse public property.

“That is private land down there,” Baker said. “It’s not town-owned land where the boy got stuck.”

Baker said there are locations where danger signs could potentially be posted — both at South River and the Deerfield River — but he pointed to signs that have been posted and then vandalized, including one at Bardwell’s Ferry Bridge.

“Whether those would work, whether they’d last, is anybody’s guess,” he said. “But that’s one option you could look at.”

Town Administrator Tom Hutcheson said Conway has had one landowner in particular approach the town about issues he has had on his property near South River, and ultimately, it will likely come down to landowners posting signs on their land.

“There are any number of nuances that make it a difficult situation for the town to get involved with,” Hutcheson said. “It’s a long-term issue.”

Reflecting on the South River accident that triggered the discussion, Selectboard member Phil Kantor brought into the conversation a department policy that requires town employees who are first responders to receive verbal permission from supervisors to respond to an emergency.

“In this particular instance, one of the first responders whose assistance proved critical to the life-saving effort … had to wait for a couple of minutes for his department head to get back in touch and respond that it was OK for him to go to this call,” Kantor said.

He proposed updating the policy to create a distinction between in-town emergency calls and out-of-town calls.

Baker agreed, and told board members that although the Conway Fire Department has a sizable firefighting staff, most of the firefighters work out of town.

“Six of our people showed up that day ... to help that kid out,” Baker said. “Like Phil just said, if that one town employee had to take longer to get permission to leave, that would have been a lot more critical in that situation.”

The policy applies in particular to the Highway Department, as it’s the only department — with the exception of the town administrator — staffed by full-time employees, according to Hutcheson.

“This really doesn’t affect many people, but we certainly like to support both our first responders but also our department heads,” Hutcheson said.

If the Selectboard is interested in moving forward with any kind of update to the policy, Hutcheson said the board could have it reviewed by the personnel committee or have it be discussed directly by the highway superintendent and the fire chief.

“I think the board should very seriously look at that,” Baker said, “and address it as soon as possible.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-772-0261, ext. 263. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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