Every year, as spring arrives in Maine, the vigilance of the State Department of Transportation's (DOT) winter highway patrol is appreciated yet again. In a part of the country where winter weather conditions change suddenly and radically, many motorists and truck drivers need all the help they can get to surmount unexpected emergencies.
In many states, this kind of help often comes from state police or highway patrol officers. But in Maine, it comes largely from the DOT's highway patrol, which is not a law enforcement agency.
The DOT's reputation for rescue is impressive by any measure.
A truck carrying a load of grain along Interstate 95 on a winter night a few years ago skidded through a guard rail, plummeted down an embankment, and came to rest with its driver pinned behind his steering wheel. Grain began to pour into the cab, threatening to suffocate the trucker.
But a DOT highway patrolman out checking the highways spotted the gap in the guard rail through which the truck had crashed. He turned around, drove back, found the helpless driver, and saved his life.
Not long ago in Benton, Maine, a little town northwest of Waterville, fire broke out in a house at night. The occupants were asleep - until a DOT patrolman drove by, saw the blaze, woke the sleepers, and got them out safely. The house was destroyed.
A patrolman in Washington County came upon a woman driver stranded because of a broken fan belt. He improvised a belt from a nylon stocking, and she was able to drive into a nearby town.
And in York some time ago, an expectant mother and her husband were snowbound. A night patrolman came by and radioed for a plow. It dug the couple out, and they made it to a hospital in time.
Beginning each November and continuing through mid-April, 30 DOT patrolmen prowl the highways from 9:30 p.m. to 6 a.m., out of seven division headquarters reaching from Scarborough to Presque Isle, whenever bad storms are imminent or traveling conditions are poor.