PORTLAND – When a group of hardy souls gathers at East End Beach in the pre-dawn darkness Sunday to raise money for the Portland Firefighters Children’s Burn Foundation, Tiffany Bates will be among them.
She didn’t sign up initially for the annual Paddy Plunge, set to launch at 5:30 a.m. as an unofficial kickoff for St. Patrick’s Day, but she is a team player.
Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria had planned to charge into the icy waters of Casco Bay along with a bunch of his firefighters, but he got called out of state for a funeral. All those pledges, just sitting there.
“He said ‘If you’re a team player you’d do it for me,’” said Bates, the chief’s executive assistant, recalling their conversation Tuesday. “I said ‘No way. That’s the ocean in March.’ “
“There happened to be a lot of people in the room. He heckled and there was more heckling,” she said. She relented and said that as long as there was $1,000 in the office pledge envelope, she’d do it.
Besides, it’s for the kids.
The foundation helps pay for out-of-state burn victims to attend the Fire & Ice Burn Survivor’s Winter Camp in Maine with confidence-building outdoor activities such as rock climbing, skiing and learning to build snow shelters.
It also pays for Maine kids to attend burn camp in New Jersey and, in conjunction with the Boston firefighters’ burn foundation, helps parents of burn victims who need to be transferred from Maine to a burn center in Massachusetts.
The plunge was tentatively set to go off at 8:15 a.m. because of the rule prohibiting bars from serving before 9 a.m. Sundays, but when Gov. Paul LePage signed emergency legislation allowing bars to open at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day, the dip was returned to its traditional time.
The dip is just one facet of a larger fundraising effort started and hosted by Ri Ra Irish Pub.
Those taking the plunge can enjoy a big breakfast and a pint at the pub on Commercial Street starting at 6 a.m. and everyone is welcome to bid on auction items, with the proceeds going to benefit the foundation.
Last year, the plunge attracted about 100 people and the entire fundraising effort raised $21,300 for the foundation.
Firefighter David Petruccelli has attended every plunge but one over the past 12 years.
“Being up when it’s still dark, that’s part of the challenge, part of their badge of honor for doing this one,” he said. “Six or seven of those years there was actually snow falling.”
Some people are born to greatness. Others are browbeaten into it.
Bates may have required some coercion, but she’s no stranger to cold water. She enjoys whitewater canoe racing, which starts at the end of March and has its own icy plunges, though in that case, unplanned.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: