NORTH ANDOVER — Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera said his experience as an Army military police officer, during the Persian Gulf War, helped prepare him for handling the crisis of Sept. 13, when over pressurized gas lines sparked numerous fires and explosions.
"It is important to be calm," Rivera said, Wednesday evening at the 19th annual James J. St. Germain Memorial Lecture at Merrimack College. The program included the induction of 20 students into the political science and international studies honor societies.
Rivera told the students, many of whom plan to pursue careers in public service, that "nothing is more important than local government." As an example, he pointed out that the crosswalk with traffic signals on Route 114 resulted from collaboration among the state, North Andover selectmen and Merrimack College.
"We impact a lot of people," the mayor said. Rivera talked about the challenges of the gas disaster. Everyone in South Lawrence had to be evacuated, he recalled.
The situation was complicated because many South Lawrence residents did not have cars. School buses were summoned.
Columbia Gas, he said, "had no idea of what was going on." The company was slow to call for extra crews "because they didn't want to pay," Rivera said.
In stark contrast, he noted that area fire departments have a well-organized system of mutual aid. Lawrence police were reinforced by officers from other communities, including Boston, Rivera said.
Gov. Charlie Baker was very helpful, during the crisis, declaring a state of emergency and assigning Eversource to direct the replacement of gas lines.
Baker also expedited bringing in plumbers and other tradespeople to repair damage, Rivera said.
He credited U.S. Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both Massachusetts Democrats, with "bringing Congress to Lawrence" by holding hearings in the city.
"We learned through the process," Rivera said.
One of the inductees into the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, Andrew Hannon, asked Rivera which was more challenging, the military or serving as mayor.
"Being mayor is tougher than boot camp," Rivera said. The Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society is for students majoring in political science. Hannon, who will be graduating in May, intends to pursue a graduate degree in international security and counterterrorism.
Hannon, who was 4 on Sept. 11, 2001, said he could vaguely remember the TV coverage of the terrorist attacks.
The other inductees into the Pi Sigma Alpha Honor Society, their hometowns and their postgraduate plans are Brianna Bennet, Hull, law school and running for office; Colin Creamer, Boylston, law school and business ownership; Catherine Flaherty, North Andover, corporate law; Taylor Galusha, Wethersfield, Connecticut, law school and a year of service; John Gordon, Peabody, master's degree; Quinn O'Sullivan, Somersworth, New Hampshire, international law; Isabella Palmeira, Middleton, graduate school; Julia Tabicas, Everett, graduate school; Daniel Valerio, Wilmington, FBI; Patrick Walker, Coventry, Connecticut, environmental policy; and Eli Wendell, St. Johnsbury, Vermont, law school.
Those inducted into the Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society, which is for students majoring in international studies, were Giuliano DiRussio, Diana Hallisey, Aasmund Joedahl and Eden MacDougall.
Joedahl, of Norway, plans to attend graduate school while Eden MacDougall, of Haverhill, wants to work at the United Nations. DiRussio and Hallisey were unable to attend the induction.
To be inducted into one of these honor societies, students must have at least a 3.0 overall average, at least a 3.0 in their major and be halfway through their college careers.
St. Germain taught at Merrimack in the history, political science and social science departments from 1951 until 1981. Past St. Germain lecturers have included Robert Bell, a former civilian representative in Europe for four defense secretaries; and Congressman Seth Moulton, D-Salem.