On Tuesday morning Brad Fligor’s voice came over the ferry radio asking somebody to call the police quickly. He is an unusually calm person in emergency situations, having been an EMT in both Boston and Edgartown for many years. He was a member of the aerial fire truck crew as well. He has been a full-time Chappy ferry captain longer than anybody else and has seen it all. But I could tell from his voice that he was very concerned, needed help and needed it right away. When there is an emergency at the ferry our protocol is for the ferry captain to immediately call for help on the ferry radio. It’s a one-call-does-it-all plan. We have radios in our houses, vehicles, office, workshop and in our pockets so that we are always available to the ferry captain at a moment’s notice to rush down to the ferry or call the communications center to get any kind of help necessary on the way. The ferry captain already has plenty to do in an emergency so we make the phone calls.

My son-in-law Erik Gilley answered Brad’s radio call. Turns out there was a woman swimming across the channel and this being February, she was in trouble. Brad cautiously maneuvered the ferry in her direction and prepared the ferry’s rescue gear. Two very strong passengers aboard the ferry were able to get a hold of her and pull her up onto the deck of the ferry. I know from personal experience that pulling a person out of the water is not an easy task under the best of circumstances. This was her lucky day that she was seen in the water and quickly rescued. You may also say that she was lucky that there were two big strong guys on hand able to pull her out of the water.

Actually, the ferry is fully equipped with rescue gear that makes it possible for a single person to safely pull a human or even a dog out of the water, and it doesn’t matter if the person or dog is much bigger than the person doing the rescuing. Adjacent to the pilot house of both Chappy ferryboats is a metal contraption that looks like some sort of shellfish processing gizmo. It is actually a rescue platform stored in the retracted position. It was designed and fabricated by Erik. In the event that a person needs to be rescued, this contraption unfolds, extends over the side of the ferry, and provides a solid platform right at water level. An underwater boarding ladder can be quickly attached to the platform to allow a conscious and able person to climb out of the water much like you would from a swimming pool. A small person can be easily pulled the few inches up onto the platform. An unconscious or injured person gets hoisted out by an underarm sling attached to an overhead winch capable of lifting a thousand pounds. The ferry is able to return to the Edgartown slip without retracting the rescue platform. The rescued victim can remain securely on the platform at water level or hoisted onto the deck.

The ambulance crew comes right aboard the ferry to bundle the victim up and provide whatever emergency care is needed. At the start of every day the ferry captain operates the electric winch to verify that it is functioning properly. If it should fail during a rescue, a set of pulleys and a rope is ready at hand to quickly take the place of the electric winch. The box that it is kept in is labeled Plan B which is exactly what one of the Coast Guard inspectors suggested. The ferry carries a throwable life ring with a flashing strobe attached as well as an assortment of boat hooks to assist in rescuing. At night bright lights illuminate the rescue platform. For most of the months of the year, the Chappy ferry is the most immediately available vessel to perform a rescue in the harbor and we want to be successful in our efforts to help a person in distress.

I’m grateful to the guys who started their day by saving a life. I’m glad that there won’t be a news article in the paper this week that has a sad ending. You never know how you will be reminded of your own good fortune.