Mutual aid


Summer doesn’t officially end until September 23. For many, the upcoming Labor Day weekend is the dividing line. Close observers of Island roadways and intersections are more inclined to name Ag Fair weekend as our summer visitor solstice, the peak after which the number of SUVs with New York and Connecticut plates begins to diminish.

Martha’s Vineyard is a seasonal balloon. The week of Illumination Night, the Oak Bluffs fireworks and the four-day Ag Fair is when it appears it might burst. The week that follows is when it begins to slowly deflate. About February, that balloon will be flat.

This week, summer visitors, including President Obama and his entourage and their security details, headed back to work and their off-Island routines. Students who had not already done so returned to college. The lessening of traffic, people, and frenetic activity was noticeable everywhere but at the Steamship Authority where boatline employees did their best to accommodate the departing passengers and vehicles.

So this is a fitting time in the rhythm of Island life to take notice of those Islanders who mostly remain unnoticed behind the scenes until they are needed, and who, happily, do not figure in the vacation experiences of most summer visitors— the Island’s volunteer EMTs and firefighters, police, dispatchers, nurses, and doctors.

Travelers who arrive and depart from the Island by air on scheduled and private airplanes likely take little notice when they pass by an unprepossessing building located not far from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport terminal. Inside that building, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the men and women that staff the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department Communications Center calmly and professionally knit together the Island’s emergency response system.

Over the course of the past eight weeks the radio scanner in The Times newsroom rarely remained silent for very long. Most visitors might be surprised to learn how much goes on behind the scenes of their lovely vacation spot.

The calls run the gamut: An elderly person is ill and complaining of shortness of breath; there is a bike accident in the state forest and an individual is bleeding from the head; there is a three-car motor vehicle accident with “unknown injuries,” a woman can be heard screaming for help from a house; there are sheep in the road; a suspected shoplifter on Main Street; a caller has reported a driver swerving all over State Road headed up Island; a swimmer in trouble off State Beach; a driver is locked out of her car in the Stop & Shop parking lot; and on and on it goes: a smell of gas in a house elicits a visit from the fire department; a burglar alarm summons the police.

Every call is a precursor. Medical emergencies bring a quick response from the Island’s corps of dedicated, volunteer EMTs. Police rush from emergency call to emergency call. Several times over the course of the summer dive teams have mobilized and rushed to answer calls of swimmers and boaters in distress. Often, even before they arrive there is a happy ending. The call comes over the scanner: “swimmers on the beach, you can slow your response.” Nevertheless, every call is answered with the same vigor as the one before it.

One particularly busy summer day, ambulances were racing from town to town to provide mutual aid, the term used when one town summons help from another. Of course, mutual aid is the lifeblood of any small community. Although our population swells from about 17,000 in the winter to about 105,000 in the summer, our instincts are still that of a small community where neighbors look out for neighbors, even if they are only our neighbors for a week or two.

The end of the summer will not bring an end to emergency calls, only a let up in the volume. Hopefully, the men and women who have manned the front lines of the Island’s emergency response systems with be able to catch their collective breaths and find time to go to the beach. A tip of the hat to them all.

Farewell Mr. Obama

President Obama and his family have departed Martha’s Vineyard for Washington, D.C. He returns to many challenges. We trust that his time on the Vineyard provided him with a welcome respite and time to reflect on the course he must steer.

It appears he enjoyed his Island vacation. But it is hard to know. Mr. Obama remained well out of the public eye and showed little appetite for meeting the Island public, if even for a fleeting moment. Americans like their elected leaders to be personable, but unfortunately it may be a sign of the times. See you next year, Mr. President.