COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Members of the Coventry Fire Department refused to let the coronavirus pandemic stop them from participating in a long-standing New Year’s Day tradition.
Coventry Fire Chief Frank Brown said members of the department have been taking part in the Special Olympics Rhode Island Penguin Plunge for 19 years.
This year, Special Olympics was forced to cancel the in-person event, which typically draws thousands to Roger Wheeler State Beach for a brief, icy swim.
So instead of jumping into the freezing ocean, Coventry firefighters got creative so they didn’t have to miss out on the department tradition.
On Friday, more than a dozen firefighters and their families ran through a stream of frigid water, suspended by one of the department’s ladder trucks.
“It’s just a different venue and something that everybody that plunges with us will always remember it,” Brown said. “We did it and didn’t put it behind us and it’s pretty special.”
Brown said the water stream was about 42 degrees, just like it would’ve been if they’d jumped into the ocean.
“It was actually not that bad,” he said, adding that they lowered the water pressure to ensure everyone’s safety. “It was easier than going into the water down in Narragansett.”
Brown said this year, the department raised $10,000 for Special Olympics Rhode Island. Since they began participating in 2002, they’ve raised $300,000.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Brown said. “Family and giving back.”
Brown said while 2020 was a tough year, he’s optimistic that this year will be much better.
“We’ve had sick firefighters,” he said. “We deal with it every day on the truck. There’s been a lot of heartache and I think that’s why we needed to do it. We had to look past what’s going on and look to a brighter future. So, to get out here and do this and keep the tradition going, it warms my heart.”