Firefighters brave snow and ice to rescue … a bunch of balloons

(Photo courtesy of the Southborough Fire Department)

Every year the Southborough Fire Department practices ice and water rescues. That’s a good thing for a town with as much water as we have. But something tells me the rescue they undertook yesterday isn’t the sort of thing they had in mind when they were training.

In the middle of the afternoon storm, Southborough emergency crews got a call that someone might be out on the frozen surface of the Sudbury Reservoir between Cordaville and Middle Roads.

The first responders confirmed something was moving out on the ice. With the limited visibility, they couldn’t tell what it was, but it moved in a manner consistent with a person who was laying on or had fallen through the ice.

Turns out it wasn’t a person at all. It was a bunch of mylar Valentine’s Day balloons that had made their way out onto the ice and were bobbing and swaying in the breeze.

But rescuers had to be sure there wasn’t a person through the ice with the balloons (although why someone would have been out walking on the ice in the middle of a snowstorm with a bunch of Valentine’s Day balloons would be anyone’s guess), so they pulled on their cold water immersion suits, and with the ice rescue sled standing by, headed out onto the ice.

Thankfully, balloons — with no sign of human presence — were all they found.

The photos courtesy of the Southborough Fire Department are priceless. Click any to enlarge and view as a slideshow.

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14 years ago

I don’t know why but that makes me want to cry! How silly. Nice to know we are so well-taken-care-of. We take such things for granted sometimes.

Thanks to Fire and Rescue!

14 years ago

Great STORY!!!!! We risked a bunch of lives to save some balloons. Has anyone ever heard of using binoculars instead of risking the lives of the firemen? Also, did we have to pay overtime to recall firefighters to man the station?

Before you blow off my comments, take a look at this recent article where Canadian firefighters died during a recent ice rescue practice.

John Mauro, Jr.
14 years ago


It is always easy for a Monday Morning Quarterback to read a story and criticize the actions of others without walking in their shoes.

Binoculars, as well as a camera with a telephoto lens were used in an attempt to identify the object, however, due to extremely limited visibility due moderate snowfall, it was difficult to tell what was on the ice. All trained emergency responders thought it could have be a person on or in the ice due to the object moving – it resembled the movement of an arm lifting (later determined to be caused when the wind was blowing). Remember, this object was well over 100 yards off of the causeway.

All four shift firefighter/EMTs were tied up on two medical emergencies when this call was received. The first responding engine to this call was staffed with an off-duty full-time firefighter, and two on-call firefighters which came to cover the station because the station was empty due to the other calls. Two other call firefighters responded to the call assistance. This type of call, if it were a person on or through the ice, would have required a minimum of six people to handle. As it were, we had to have three people in cold water immersion suits, with three rope tenders on the shore.

If we left the object on the ice, we would have received calls about it through the rush hour, but more importantly, we run the risk of a Good Samaritan running out on the ice thinking it was a person in trouble. We may have had an actual rescue then!

There are inherent risks associated with the job that we do. This includes training. Every safety precaution is taken during both training, and actual emergency incidents. Several years ago, in a town not too far from here, a woman was walking with her dog along the shore of a frozen body of water. The dog wandered onto the ice and fell through. The woman attempted to rescue the dog and she too fell through the ice. The Fire Department was called but was not trained or equipped to perform ice rescues. The woman died. A suit was filed against the town, and they lost.

Should you, or any other reader of this blog have any questions about the Fire Department, please feel free to call me. I would be happy to answer any questions about the service we provide.

John Mauro
Fire Chief

14 years ago

Yes Marty its a great story. No, no over time was paid, Call-Firefighters have base pays so take a deep breath of relief. If you looked at the photos closely the balloons blowing in the wind mixed with heavy snow made it look like a person therefore they did their job by going out on the ice to identify the “object”. If you read earlier in the year on this blog you would have seen pictures and articles on how Southboroughs firefighters constantly do ice training. They know what they are doing. You should be giving them a hand because I have a good feeling you would never take a risk like that. Never mind leaving your computer for 10 minutes to stop waste space on this blog.

14 years ago

Thanks, Chief. Job well done by all. Glad it wasn’t a kid, which is what it looked like in the photo.

14 years ago

Can’t we all just get along?

14 years ago

Fire Chief John Mauro is a true professional and a true asset to the Town of Southborough. The Townspeople are so very very lucky to have someone of his caliber, with his talent,dedication ,energy and willingness to serve the Community in multiple capacities. He is well trained, experienced,educated and devoted to what he does. His judgement and leadership in times of extreme pressure and stress have always proven to be reliable and thoughtful. I for one have nothing but admiration for him and the other members of the Southborough Fire Department for the challenging roles they play in selflessly providing the day to day Public Safety that the citizens of Southborough depend on and consistently rely upon. Our real heroes.

14 years ago

I could not agree more, well done to the Southborough Fire Department! You provide a must have service to the community, something the community could not live without.
And “Marty”, when you decide to have something of value to add to a discussion, that does not include bashing the people who might just save your life someday for a job well done, let us all know. Maybe we’ll listen, but I doubt it. It is obvious that you can’t see the good that has come out of this incident, nor do you want to see it. Too bad for you.
Hats off to the Southborough Fire Department and all those involved in the “rescue” of those balloons. Although we can all chuckle about the incident now, they took it very seriously and did their jobs not knowing what to expect!
Great job!

John Kendall
14 years ago

Imagine if nobody cared to report it and it was a kid holding balloons, taking a shortcut in the storm, and had broken through the ice. The SFD has ALWAYS done an outstanding job!

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