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Taking time out to say thanks

Local heroes: Community members in Wentworth gathered to pay tribute to their police and fire/rescue personnel at a surprise appreciation barbecue last Wednesday evening. Pictured, first responders (left to right): front — Chris Ball, Jr., Paul “Junior” Davis, Arlene Patten, Fire Chief Jeff Ames, Steve Welch, Davy Williams; back row—Police Chief Kevin Kay, Chris Ball, Sr., Paul Davis, Sr., Pete Chierichetti, Steve Albaugh. (Marcia Morris) (click for larger version)
September 28, 2011
WENTWORTH—The tightly knit neighborhood enclave on Ellsworth Hill in Wentworth is made up of cozy homes nestled among the tall White Pines along the babbling Baker Brook. The friendly, small town rural community has been "home sweet home" to generations of local residents.

But when Tropical Storm Irene roared into our region a few weeks ago, that tranquil neighborhood, like much of the rest of Central New Hampshire, was suddenly transformed into a nightmare of wind whipped trees and dangerous overflowing rivers.

"It's the worst flooding we've ever had. I've never seen anything like it in all my years," says 26-year veteran Wentworth Volunteer Firefighter Paul "Jr." Davis. "The force of the water was amazing, and it came up so fast. It was one of those days that you never forget. Hopefully, we will not have to deal with anything like that again."

When the next day dawned sunny and warm, and the neighbors ventured out of their houses to survey the damage, they couldn't believe what they saw.

"We went down the hill and into town, and realized how bad it really was," said one Ellsworth Hill resident. "We had become Lake Wentworth."

The tennis courts in the park along the Baker River were under 12 feet of water, and there was nothing but the tassels of corn stalks poking out above the water in the fields across from Shawnee's Market.

"We lost power for four or five days, but when it was all over, nobody got hurt, and everything turned out O.K.," said a grateful Davis.

But this time, the community members of Wentworth are not taking that for granted.

Last Wednesday night, dozens of neighbors gathered at a festive outdoor barbecue in honor of the police and fire department personnel who, once again, worked through the night to keep them all safe.

"We have been wanting to do something to show our appreciation for their incredible service for a long time," explained one resident, who said she wanted to be known only as Kim. "But after that storm, we just knew we had to do something to say thanks. We really appreciate everything they do for the Town of Wentworth. They offer their time, and do an impressive job. They always go over and above to help everybody. They don't even think twice about it."

"They are the ones that get called out at 3 a.m. It is sometimes a thankless job," said Kim's husband Tim, who hosted the Texas style barbecue.

The retired former law enforcement officer said he is no longer physically able to get out and help in emergencies, but he knows the thanks that sometimes, first responders never get.

"It bothered me that I couldn't be out there with them, but I can't do it anymore. I figured the least I can do is throw a party to say thanks. They do it because they love this Town, and I am doing this to honor them because I love them for loving this town."

Everyone at the gathering was buzzing about what many referred to as the heroism of Paul "Junior" Davis, who rescued an elderly woman when five feet of water surrounded her flooded home during the height of the Tropical Storm. But Davis wasn't buying it.

"I may have been the one who strapped on the harness and ropes and went into the house to get her," said Davis, "but everyone was there, police and fire, and everybody did their job. It was a real team effort."

The value of teamwork is one of the things that Wentworth Police Chief Kevin Kay singles out as part of what makes Wentworth special.

"This community really pulled together to get prepared, and everyone came out of it O.K.," said Kay. "The toughest part of the job is that way out here in Wentworth, officers are pretty much on your own when they respond to a call. There is no backup that can get there within a short period of time. So out here, we know all have to work together to get it done."

Kay said that Wentworth is very fortunate to have one of the most experienced police departments in many, many years, with several long-time veteran officers currently serving.

The Volunteer Fire Department is also filled with veterans, like Davis, a second generation fire-fighter whose father, Paul Sr., is still a member of the department.

"It's something that is in the blood," said Junior.

And the next generation of kids in Wentworth get it, too. The first and second graders at Wentworth Elementary School had made cards and sent messages to all the police and firefighters at the barbecue. They drew pictures of police cars and fire trucks, and signed their names—Shiloh, Aidan, Matthew, Garin, Mark, Austin, Halle, Chloe, Cailey and Henna say "Thank you for keeping us safe."

Varney Smith
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