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Book Review: First Responder

I begin a review of “First Responder”, by Richard Withington, MD, with a memory of a phone call I received in 2009, from Ian Coristine, a couple of months after I took on the “job”, as editor of Thousand Islands  “Susie, you have to publish Dick Withington’s piece about island living in the winter.”

“Ian,” I said, “it is too late, we go live in three days; besides it sounds like a blog.”

“Susie, I can’t say strongly enough, the piece is fantastic.”

Dick sent me the piece and I realized that I was being given a great present! Dick Withington’s pieces are both fascinating to read and filled with survival information rarely shared. In fact, by the end of that first article I felt I was sitting right beside Dr. Withington, as he made his way to Round Island, in the middle of the winter across the ice.

Since then, we at TI Life have enjoyed over 20 articles. Now, in 2016, he has written a whole book!

Writing this review is difficult as there are dozens of quotes that I could use, to demonstrate how important “First Responders” are to our society in general and to the North Country, in particular. The timeline spans a whole career, one that could have ended, when many retire, at age 65, but not so for our responder, in fact there will probably be several chapters to come.

I will not attempt to take you through each section of this tribute to First Responders, as that is without question, what this whole book is about. But I do provide this from page 14:


“About 1979 we moved to Clayton. I was concerned that there was little fire/rescue protection for my family on the island while I was at work. After discussion with the fire department, we agreed to augment services my modifying the fireboat cabin to accommodate EMS victims. A very small federal grant was obtained to assist in outfitting and equipping the boat for transporting the sick and injured. I believe it was one of the first recognized “ambulance boats” in New York State. As this was coming to fruition, the department announced that if I were to have a say in how the money was spent, I would have to join the Fire Department. An interview was set up and my application was reviewed. I specifically recall being told that this was not to be a social membership. If I were to be admitted into the department, it was fully expected that I would show up for fighting fires and other emergencies. They were not sure what they were getting, and I certainly did not appreciate what I was getting into.

Through the Sheriff’s Office and the EMS Office, I was provided with the tools of the trade; a beeper for dispatch, a radio to assist in coordination, and turn-out gear for my protection. The stage was set.

You have now trudged through the background as to how I got to the starting line. Read on to see what happened.”

From then on, the passages read like mystery stories, often serious and heart wrenching, others with happy endings. One such entry is filed under the chapter:  Air Boats:

  “One weekend in early spring, we got a distress call from a large, multi-passenger hovercraft about two miles from shore. Darrel and I headed out. The hovercraft was broken down but afloat. Believe it or not, we rigged a towing harness, and towed it to a near-by-island. It was almost impossible to steer, and with the skirts in the water, it was like towing Gibraltar. We took the occupants off and gave them a ride to shore. I bet there are vary few people who have ever tried to use an air-boat to tow a hovercraft. I won’t do that again.

And we conclude with:

  I hope you have enjoyed this journey through my memories as much as I have. The job is not getting any easier, so I salute the first responders who are coming along in the next generation. I wish them Godspeed.

We at TI Life, as well as all those who have been touched by Dr. Richard Withington and his team (as he always says, first responding is a team effort) thank him for all his efforts both on land and water and also on his computer. This is a must-have book you will both enjoy and appreciate.

“First Responder” is available in Clayton at:
The Gold Locker,
690 Riverside Drive, Clayton. 
Phone 315-777-6059.

And at R.J. Marine,

ISBN 978-1-5323-1461-2


By Susan W. Smith,

Editor, TI Life

Posted in: Book Review
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