It took a pickup truck flying into the harbor from the ramp of the Chappaquiddick ferry slip to highlight something Vineyarders can often take for granted — the exceptional readiness of the men and women who are called on to respond in an emergency.
When sirens sound, the first responders are people we know and work with, folks we meet at the post office and supermarkets. Living miles from the mainland, we depend on our friends and neighbors in times of urgency in a way few other towns or communities in the country do.
On Monday, it wasn’t the work of just one squad of rescuers that stood out, though assistant harbor master Mike Hathaway, who reached the truck and pulled the driver into his pump-out boat within seconds of its splashdown at the harbor entrance, deserves special notice. The quick-thinking Mr. Hathaway had the foresight to drag the truck away from the route over which the Chappy ferry crosses. It was a critical move that cleared the way for the ferry to carry the necessary emergency vehicles and their crews back and forth during the flurry that followed the incident.
More broadly, what impressed bystanders on Memorial Wharf and Chappy Point who watched the scene unfold was the fact that everyone involved — police officers, firefighters, EMTs, divers and others — seemed to know exactly what to do in a situation that would be hard to imagine at any time, and even harder to prepare for. Within ten minutes, a rescue truck and ambulance on the Edgartown side of the harbor were aboard the Chappaquiddick ferry On Time III, heading over to Chappy. A fire truck from the Chappy fire station was at the point, standing by to help. Divers were suiting up to find the pickup truck, which had sunk safely north of the Chappy ferry slip. Police had blocked off the roads to the ferry landing so that emergency vehicles could get through. A tow truck was en route to pull the vehicle from the bottom of the harbor. The driver was delivered uninjured to Memorial Wharf and was heading to the hospital in an ambulance.
Of note was the fact that Peter Wells, co-owner of the ferry with his wife Sally Snipes, had the ferries back in regular service in less than half an hour after the accident, with the permission of officials on the scene. The On Time II and III, sturdily built decades ago but expertly maintained to this day, had done their jobs carrying over everyone and everything required to deal with the emergency on the Chappy side. They then resumed their normal, back and forth tasks even as officials and those with particular skills, working on land and water only a few feet away, did theirs.
Along with Mr. Wells, and maintenance manager Erik Gilley, the captains and deckhands of the ferry had a protocol to deal with this unfortunate accident, which was as unprecedented as it was unlikely. The Chappy ferry service, in business for more than two hundred years, looks like the most routine operation imaginable. Monday morning proved that there is nothing routine about it. And like our fellow Islanders who answer the call when unusual and unnerving things happen from one end of the Island to the other, those in charge of the ferry met the challenge with poise and ability.