Thursday, December 12, 2013
SCARBOROUGH — Steering down Pine Point Road in the darkness of the Scarborough Marsh, Officer Andrew Flynn glanced at his cruiser's computer screen.
Scarborough police officer Andrew Flynn with a thermal imaging camera mounted on top of his search light and computer screen in his cruiser.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Scarborough police officer Andrew Flynn's thermal imaging camera in his cruiser. This image was recorded earlier of Flynn making a traffic stop.
John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
His thermal imaging camera was displaying the ghostly images of cool bushes against an inky black sky, like an old black-and-white film negative. Among the shades of gray, he thought he caught a slightly lighter hue, representing a warmer surface, and decided to investigate.
That attention to detail -- combined with the Scarborough Police Department's technology -- is credited with saving the life of an 86-year-old Cumberland man who had fallen into the marsh the previous afternoon.
The man lay for nine hours, down a small embankment where he had fallen. He was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and a vest as temperatures dropped to the low 40s.
Scarborough police posted the story of his rescue on their Facebook page last week, and it has drawn about 650 comments, with almost 8,500 people liking it.
Flynn works the midnight-to-8 a.m. shift, and often runs the thermal camera -- increasingly popular police technology -- as he checks out parking lots and businesses, looking for the tell-tale infrared images given off by recently driven cars in areas where there shouldn't be any, or by people in places they shouldn't be.
He typically drives with the camera on, although it isn't always active on his screen, he said.
"If I'm driving through a neighborhood and someone's out walking at 2 in the morning, it could be someone letting their dog out or someone looking into people's cars," he said. "We've had a significant increase in motor vehicle burglaries throughout the summer."
The cameras cost about $4,200 each. The town used a federal Justice Assistance Grant three years ago to buy seven, one for each cruiser. Officers use them to track burglars. Flynn used his last winter to find a woman who had left a nursing home wearing only a nightgown.
On Sept. 13, Flynn saw the lighter image on Pine Point Road, just past the nature center on the Scarborough Marsh. He found a car with its windows down, then heard a voice calling for help.
"I heard someone yell but I couldn't quite distinguish what was said. I initially thought it came from inside the car," he said.
Then he heard it again, a call for help coming from the marsh.
He started into the marsh, his flashlight beam seeking out the voice, and spotted the man not far off the path, only 20 feet or so from the car.
"He was lying on his back. He said, 'Please help me. I'm not able to get up.'"
The man, who lives alone and asked not to be identified "to avoid notoriety," said he stopped at the marsh for some late-afternoon birdwatching, a hobby he has pursued since he was 10.
The sun was still above the horizon when he saw the usual mallards and eider ducks, then was drawn into the marsh by a pair of smaller ducks a distance away.
"I wanted to check them and see what they were. That's when I went down over the bank and had my fall," he said.
He injured his shoulder and couldn't pull himself up. His glasses came off and he lost his binoculars. He got a hand down to his pants pockets -- and discovered that he had left his cellphone in the car.
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