ANDOVER — It took Methuen Fire Chief Steven Buote 10 minutes to thank the volunteers who have become unheralded heroes whenever tragedy strikes at emergency scenes across the Merrimack Valley.
Buote said he needed all of that time to pay proper tribute to the Trauma Intervention Program of the Merrimack Valley during the group’s 20th Annual Volunteer Appreciation Banquet last Thursday night at the Wyndham Boston Andover hotel.
Buote, a 33-year-veteran of the Methuen Fire Department and a member of TIP’s Board of Directors, told the crowd of 166 in the Wyndham ballroom that TIP has become “a vital component of our public safety” since the group’s inception 20 years ago.
“What they do on a daily basis, their effort is tireless and of such importance to the local communities that they serve,” the chief said of the group of 19 volunteers who have undergone hours of special training so they can administer emotional first aid to the survivors of tragic and traumatic events.
“These are people who are doing this over and above their jobs and their private lives, spending an incredible amount of time, training and researching,” the chief said. “These are people doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.”
Buote himself was one of a dozen people honored on a night dedicated to the TIP volunteers, emergency responders, agencies and private citizens who embrace the TIP mission. The chief was among the emergency responders selected by volunteers for a “Gift of Caring Award.” The award recognized him as “a consistent caller and supporter of TIP services,” his extensive involvement in TIP activities, his financial advocacy for the group and his work on the board of directors.
TIP honored three nurses, three policemen, one fire official, two citizens and three of its volunteers this year — including TIP’s executive director and co-founder, Dr. Jayan M. Landry, who has been with the group as a volunteer and organizer since it began.
In 1993, Landry responded to an Eagle-Tribune ad run by Jane Thompson of Methuen, who was interested in launching what would become the first TIP chapter on the East Coast.
Landry went to California to learn about the successful program which originated in that state back in 1985.
“TIP has helped over 19,000 child and adult citizens in distress — including first responders — in the past two decades,” Landry said in an interview about her group.
At the TIP banquet, she praised the volunteers for “their innate gift of compassion.”
“They are 19 men and woman from the community who want to make a difference in the lives of others experiencing their own uphill battle in the form of a traumatic event,” Landry said.
“Our TIP volunteers are the program. They get out of bed at all hours of the night, come to monthly meetings and choose to miss out on holiday dinners to help strangers,” she said.
TIP has been a relentless mission for Landry, whose commitment to the cause was tempered by a series of personal tragedies and trauma. Her parents divorced at age 9. The emotional pain deepened when she was 17, as her father died of a heart attack. Four years later, she became a registered nurse.
A need to say ‘good-bye’
Landry’s inability to say “good-bye” to her dad after his death was a deep hurt that lingered over the years. TIP became a vehicle that helped her heal by providing that opportunity for trauma victims in the Valley.
Soon after he first met Landry and became acquainted with the new TIP program, Chief Buote witnessed how a final “good-bye” could bring comfort to a middle-aged Methuen woman who came to her elderly mother’s home for a visit only to find her dead on the bedroom floor.
Buote, who was then a fire lieutenant, said he and others felt helpless in their efforts to console the grieving woman — until a TIP volunteer arrived.
The volunteer asked whether it would be possible “if the daughter could say goodbye to her mom,” the chief recalled.
“My crew and I lifted the woman off the floor and placed her in her bed and then pulled the covers up and fixed the bed to make it look as if she were sleeping,” Buote said.
Watching how the “good-bye” brought some peace for the daughter reassured Buote about the value of the program.
Buote had long been concerned about the plight of victims of tragedy before his promotion to lieutenant on Oct. 6, 1992. He remembers Engine 5 responding to 500 emergency calls a year from the East End Fire Station, at East and Swan streets — a busy place for responding to traumatic events. He thought of all those people who didn’t get help.
But a year after his promotion, Buote met Landry who had returned from the West Coast, where she had researched the original TIP program and was preparing to bring it to the Merrimack Valley.
As the years passed, “it became second nature to call for her assistance” from TIP, Buote said.
Last Dec. 21, TIP came to the rescue of the entire Methuen Fire Department. The chief recalled veteran firefighter Robert George’s wife Sandra making a frantic 911 call at about 4 a.m.
George, 46, suffered a heart attack and was brought to to Holy Family Hospital where he died.
The chief went to the emergency room to join a group of his men who had gathered to support the George family as they coped with their loss.
Cheryl Curby, a registered nurse at the hospital and a frequent caller for TIP services, made the call again for her “walking angels.” Veteran TIP volunteer Kathy Larocque soon joined the family at Rob’s bedside.
“This call was especially sad and disturbing, we were so fortunate for TIP’s help and as always Kathy was wonderful,” Curby later wrote in a letter to TIP.
At last week’s banquet, TIP cited Curby’s call for a volunteer as a reason why she received one of this year’s “Gift of Caring Awards.” It was a call that helped a grieving family in need and also firefighters devastated by the loss of a comrade..