WEST HARWICH — If it was a joke, public safety officials aren’t laughing.
On Monday afternoon, police and firefighters were called to the Herring River marsh near the North Road footbridge for a report of a man face-down in the water. Unable to reach him from the opposite bank of the river, firefighters launched a full response by the regional dive team, as well as their own rescue boat. They summoned another boat from the Mass. Environmental Police, and even launched a drone. And it wasn’t until rescuers were practically within reach that they realized the victim was a realistic mannequin.
“You had to get within two feet to know for sure,” Harwich Fire Chief Norman Clarke, Jr., said. “We honestly thought we had a dead body.”
Rescuers from all around the Lower Cape were rushing to the scene when they were called off. Harwich firefighters hauled the dummy to shore, its limbs sticking rigidly over the sides of the inflatable boat.
Clarke said he believes the mannequin was intentionally put in the marsh, as opposed to washing up there.
“It was bent over in a sitting position with its shoulders and head under the water,” he said. A Dennis man claiming to be the owner of the mannequin told police it had been stolen in January. Prior to that time, the man said he used the dummy for display in parades. Police are not contemplating charges against the man, the chief said.
“I just find the whole thing bizarre,” he said. If someone put the mannequin in the marsh as a prank, it was dangerous, he added.
“You put a lot of people in harm’s way any time you go out on the water,” Clarke said. And with responders coming from several towns, “you take the risk of having an accident of some sort.” Had there been additional emergencies at the time, a response could have been delayed, he said.
“It also cost the taxpayers of several towns money,” Clarke said. “A huge waste of resources.”