Drowning Victim's Father Helps Fire Department

Keeseville, New York - April 27, 2007

The drowning took place in Keeseville last June.

Water rescue teams searched the rushing waters of the Ausable River for over two weeks before they recovered the body of Thomas Dragoon's son.

Dragoon was so impressed by the outstanding work of the department's swift water rescue team he wrote a letter to Circuit City.

That home electronics company was sponsoring a contest to reward outstanding work done by fire departments nationwide.

Thomas Dragoon told Jack LaDuke: "The Keeseville fire department went well beyond the call of duty. I had no problem composing an essay which resulted in the fire department making the list of the top ten fire departments which made the final round."

The small fire department won ten thousand dollars for being selected. The Dragoon family and friends raised another ten thousand dollars for equipment for the swift water rescue team.

Circuit city is now offering more money to those top ten fire departments.

"Each e-mail received by firedog.com results in one dollar of aid given to the fire department up to $250,000," said Dragoon.

The department has already purchased a new twenty foot long trailer command post with the money they have collected so far.

They have many miles of swift river water to cover and want to have a well equipped team to rescue anyone.

Fire Chief Len Martin said: "We started out two years ago with our swift water program . We started to get people trained. We started collecting equipment. Some members bought their own equipment."

If more money comes in from the e-mail program, fire fighters will no longer have to purchase their own equipment. No mater what town, county or state you are in you can send a message to www.firedog.com and help the fire department with their swift water rescue team.

I am hopeful that members of this forum can assist this team by visting http://web.firedog.com/acrossamerica/vote.aspx and nominate "Finalist #1"

If you have an extra moment, click on the "Finalist #1" icon and view the moving video that pays tribute to this department and the hundreds of volunteers and public safety divers that assisted in the recovery of Mr Dragoon's son.

Meet the essay writer!
Name: Thomas Dragoon

I would like to nominate the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department (KVDF), which is located in the far northeast corner of the Adirondack Mountains of New York State for this contest. Please allow me to tell you why I feel they deserve this honor.

On June 5, 2006 my family and I suffered an unimaginable and tremendous tragedy when our youngest son Mark Dragoon was rafting with friends on the Au Sable River in the little village of Keeseville, NY. Mark and his two friends were rafting and had overshot their usual exit point on the river, and were swept into class three rapids by the strong currents from recent rains, which had caused the Au Sable to rise quickly creating an extremely dangerous situation. A frantic call by his friends to 911 had the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department on the scene in less than a few minutes to attempt the extremely dangerous swift water rescue of the rafters. To KVFDís credit, two of the rafters were successfully pulled from the strong currents caused by the rapidly rising waters of the Au Sable that night. Unfortunately, my son was not one of them.

The story that follows is one that bears telling of the compassion of Fire Chief Leonard Martin II and the 35 to 40 members of the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Department. Their never wavering devotion to duty and honor speak volumes of the volunteer spirit that is America.

The search for my son went on well past midnight that first night, but was called off due to safety concerns for the searchers. At 0600 the next morning, KVFD, fellow members of other volunteer fire departments in the area, plus federal, state, and county agencies gathered to assist the effort being lead by Chief Martin. The dangerous search area consisted of over five miles of the Au Sable River, which included the majestic Au Sable chasm, which flows into Lake Champlain. The KVFD was the lead agency, calling upon its newly formed swift water rescue unit to lead the way, coordinating the professional searchers brilliantly under extremely dangerous conditions each day until well past sunset.

Fortunately for my family, I have been a federal law enforcement officer for nearly 20 years, and I had the luxury of numerous highly skilled co-workers and friends who were able to volunteer to assist the effort. On the second search day, Chief Martin integrated our volunteers into his effort to find my son. The search continued for five days, but on the fifth day a decision was made by the federal, state, county, and local officials to cease operations until conditions improved. My familyís heart sunk, as the thought of my sonís body remaining trapped in the Au Sable River became a distinct possibility.

Upon seeing the despair in my face, Chief Martin pulled me aside and told me that although the federal, state, county, and other local agencies were ceasing operations his department was not. Chief Martin agreed to provide a base for search operations at the local fire house, make available the Ladies Auxiliary facilities to feed searchers, put a communication system in place, and to help coordinate the remaining volunteers we had amassed. This volunteer group now was know collectively as ďMarkís Magic,Ē and its army of search volunteers, now numbering close to 175 as ďThe Band of Gypsies.Ē

At 0600 hours the next day, The Band of Gypsies took over for the professional searchers with the assistance of the KVFD. As the days went by, word of our efforts spread throughout the North Country community: the goal for all the volunteers was to get Mark home for his last Fatherís Day with his family. All tallied, 45 agencies and over 310 volunteers were involved at that firehouse in bringing my son home. The astonishing leadership skills and dedication from Chief Martin and the compassion of KVFDís members was simply, for lack of better words, amazing.

Finally, 10 days after our nightmare began, the efforts of the group of volunteers were rewarded with the recovery of Markís body and his return to the loving arms of his family. Due to the unconditional efforts of this army of volunteers, my final Fatherís Day gift of being with my son one last time is one I will always cherish and remember.

What makes this story special for my family and me is that Keeseville, N.Y., is located in one of the poorest counties (Essex County) of New York State. The village of Keeseville has faced difficult financial times over the years and a disaster of this size can financially ruin a volunteer department. To have to coordinate, feed and supply a rescue effort of this dimension requires huge financial resources, which this community quite simply does not have. At no point during the ten-day search did the issue of money to support their efforts arise, just the continued support of good, decent, hardworking Americanís that put their lives on hold to help someone else in need. Chief Martin and the KVFD were there every step of the way, opening their stations doors at 0600 each morning to well past 2200 hours each evening. This is a proud American community that knows volunteerism. What they donít have in money, they have in endless spirit and devotion.

One of Chief Martinís visions for his department was to create a state of the art Swift Water Rescue Unit to serve northern New York and Vermont in times of need. The recent efforts by KVFD to create and establish such a unit were mainly funded by individual members of the department, who bought their own equipment and stored it in their own personal vehicles until the hour of need. The Zodiac, which is owned by KVFD, was transported that fateful night on a highly used borrowed snowmobile trailer. In spite of limited resources, KVDF assisted other counties this summer in downstate New York, traveling 6-8 hours, lending their Swift Water Rescue Unitís expertise to assist flood rescue efforts.

It has become my dream to assist Chief Lenny Martin and the KVFD in realizing their vision of establishing one of the finest in New York State, if not the USA, volunteer Swift Water Rescue units. In memory of my son Mark Dragoon, members of my family, friends, members of the law enforcement community and law enforcement unions, and complete strangers have raised much needed seed money of $10,000 to finance their efforts. I would like to sincerely ask you, in memory of my son Mark, and to assist the less fortunate families that wonít have available the tremendous resources I had, to select the Keeseville Volunteer Fire Departmentís Swift Water Rescue Unit as the winner in your contest. Through assisting in continued funding for this rescue unit, the memory of my son Mark and the magic his life brought to many, and his loss, will always be remembered for something good.

Thank you for your support, and with appreciation for my KVFD heroes,

Thomas Dragoon
West Chazy, NY