Recent cool temperatures provided the perfect chill Saturday for the AuSable Forks Fire Department's Polar Plunge fundraiser.
As the four volunteer firefighters participating in the event stood on the shore of Fern Lake, preparing to take a dip in the 40-degree water, laughter-infused comments from the crowd seemed to speak the minds of everyone present:
"You guys are nuts!"
"You wouldn't catch me doing that!"
Under ordinary circumstances the four plungers — Doug Seguin, Derrick Martineau, Kody Hart and Chris Thwaits II — might have agreed, but this was different.
These men had a mission — to raise money to improve their department's swift-water rescue capabilities, a skill set that trains rescuers to save people stranded in fast-moving water and during times of flooding.
Seguin hatched the plan and organized the event, which raised $600. He is AuSable Forks' only swift-water rescue technician, and that concerns him.
"The bad flooding we've seen over the past year has really pushed the point that we need to do something," Seguin said.
At $350 per person, the cost of the three day swift-water rescue training course is prohibitive for the small fire department.
Benefits like the polar plunge are slowly paying off, though. Next week, Seguin said two firefighters will receive training from Rescue 3 International, a group that has trained more than 150,000 people in flood and water rescue.
Back at the AuSable Forks Fire Station and wearing dry clothes, Seguin opened a large, black, plastic crate. Inside were four personal flotation devices and four tow lines — bagged ropes that rescuers can toss to victims in the water to pull them back to shore.
"Right now, this is all we have available to us to perform swift-water rescues," Seguin said, motioning toward the cache. "There are no knives, whistles, helmets or dry suits. It just isn't enough."
Derrick Martineau, a one-year veteran in the department, agreed that last year's floods have provided a hard lesson on the need for more training and equipment within the department.
"When you see people trapped in their homes and you want to rescue them but you can't because you don't have the means, it's a difficult thing," Martineau said.
Martineau has enjoyed cliff jumping since he was young, so the polar plunge came easy for him. The only thing that made the task seem daunting was the pneumonia he was recovering from.
"That water really took my breath away," Martineau said. "The plunge was a great idea because it shows your dedication to the whole thing, or it shows that you're crazy."
Some firefighters leaned more toward "crazy" and bowed out of the plunge, but they were still present to support the cause.
Regardless of their willingness, or refusal, to take a dip in the near-freezing water, every firefighter agreed that the community has been amazing in its support of the fire department.
"The community here has been so great to this department that we like to give something back, and being able to perform different types of rescues and help people is our way of doing that," Martineau said.