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Dragon boat team plucked from Thames during RiverFest

Norwich — Members of American Ambulance's "Paddlemedics" team had just finished a practice start in preparation for Saturday's dragon boat races when they saw another boat heading toward them.

They turned the boat; a big wave washed toward them; they all "just kind of leaned the wrong way," said team member Stacie Lambert; and the boat tipped over.

In a twist of irony, it was the paramedics who needed rescuing Saturday.

The boat races were held as part of the RiverFest celebration, sponsored by the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce and held at Howard T. Brown Park. It was the first time since Norwich held its first dragon boat race in 2008 that a boat capsized.

About half of the 22 people aboard the 41½-feet-long boat on the Thames River were paramedics; the other half were from various departments within American Ambulance, said Lambert, also chairman of the chamber's board of directors. No one was injured.

According to police, Officers Stephanie Reichard and Thomas Lazzaro of the department's marine unit were patrolling the river when the dragon boat overturned at around 10 a.m., dumping its occupants into the river. The police boat, along with a boat from the city's Recreation Department, conducted the rescue.

When the boat capsized, you could tell who was a paramedic and who wasn't, Lambert said.

"They were calm, of course," she said of the paramedics on the team. "They were the calm ones on the boat, trying to calm those of us that weren't paramedics. ... I run the finance department. So. I guess I panic in emergency situations."

The event was canceled shortly after Lambert's boat capsized. Seventeen of the 21 teams that signed up got a chance to race Saturday morning, not including the Paddlemedics, who were out on the water but hadn't raced yet. Canadian company 22Dragons runs the races and provides the dragon boats and steerspeople.

"We stopped it for safety reasons," said Nancy Gray, the chamber's president and executive director. "It became unsafe out on the water. There was just too much wind, and the current, and it became unsafe, and so we had to call the race at that point."

A rain-or-shine event, there are no plans to reschedule the races.

Staff Writer Karen Florin contributed to this report.


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