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Wading River Fire Department

A Suffolk County Police Department boat. File photo by Alex Petroski

An overturned kayak in the Long Island Sound required emergency rescue services from the Suffolk County Police Department Aug. 23.

The Suffolk County Police Department received a 911 call regarding a man who was in distress after his kayak overturned in the Long Island Sound, approximately two miles north of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant at 11:52 a.m. Thursday, according to police. Aviation Section Officers John Carey and Richard Davin responded in the police helicopter, located the kayaker and guided Marine Bureau Officers Steven Tarolli and Christopher Erickson, who were onboard Marine Delta, to the victim. Officers Tarolli and Erickson were able to pull the victim onto the boat. The Wading River Fire Department and Town of Brookhaven Bay Constable assisted in the rescue.

The victim, Andrew Punella, 61, of Queens, was transported by the Wading River Fire Department to Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead for treatment of hypothermia.

20th Street renamed Thomas Lateulere Street in memory of firefighter, good neighbor

Wading River Fire Department unveiled the new Thomas Lateulere Street sign on 20th Street Aug. 30. Photo by Robert Quaranta

By Kyle Barr

Under the newly-placed sign that says Thomas Lateulere Street high above their heads, family, friends, neighbors and volunteer firemen of the Wading River Fire Department could only remember the man the street was named after as a modest, kind and gentle soul who gave everything he had to the fire department and the community.

“It was great of the fire department to honor him like this — I never expected it, and the crowd that came, never,” Thomas Lateulere mother Joann said as she walked back to her house on the street now named after her son. “They all came to honor him, which was wonderful.”

Family memebrers, friends, members of the Wading River Fire Department and Riverhead Town were on site for the renaming of 20th Street as Lateulere Street, in memory of Thomas Lateulere, an ex-chief of Wading River Fire Department who lost a battle with cancer in 2016. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Volunteer firefighters, public officials, neighbors and friends of Thomas Lateulere, a commissioner and ex-chief in Wading River who died last July after a battle with cancer, all came to honor the man as his name was dedicated to the street where he grew up.

“He worked up until the last day he had to go to the hospital and he died,” said Latuelere’s former girlfriend Raegin Kellerman. “He was still there training students, and he was just a good man, a very good man. He loved it, too, it was a passion for him. He just enjoyed training his members on all these new advancements. He was all into new technology, new medical care and he did his research on everything. He just really loved them, it was a family to him.”

Lateulere had worked with the Wading River Fire Department and EMS for 35 years. He started when he was a young teen as a junior for the department, and he moved up through the ranks until he reached commissioner and chief. He was also one of the first paramedics to work with Suffolk County’s medevac helicopters, which are used to transport those in need of medical attention to a hospital.

“He was a really caring guy, cared about the members down here,” said current Wading River Fire Chief Kevin McQueeney. “He was the kind of guy that if your son was hurt, you wanted him to show up on the call — you knew that he was the best of the best. He is missed down here; he was a guidance down here.”

Neighbors who lived close to Lateulere said they felt safe with him nearby. Many of them knew him as “Tommy.”

“Almost everybody on this street had to call an ambulance at some time or another,” said Wading River resident and neighbor Chris Hopkins. “He heard it on the radio and he was there within two minutes He personally came twice in the middle of the night when I needed an ambulance, he was in my house within a minute taking charge of everybody, even telling the ambulance people to take good care of me. Everyone up and down our street he was there for. He was a shy fellow, but he was amazing; he was so amazing.”

Members of the Wading River Fire Department honored former chief Thomas Lateulere during a street-renaming ceremony. Photo by Robert Quaranta

Few roads have been dedicated to individuals, so Riverhead Town Highway DepartmentDeputy Superintendent Mike Zaleski said that it would be a nice way to remember the man who touched the lives of so many.

“I would say we might have dedicated fice streets to individuals, and I’ve been with the town going on 24 years,” Zakesji said.”It has to be very noteworthy, somebody special,. It’s well deserved here.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the steet renaming was the least the town could do.

“I mean he’s a 35-year volunteer and commissioner of the fire department, EMS worker and trainer — there are very few people in the world who excel at that level, especially to protect life safety,” Walter said.

Kellerman said that the street sign should also serve as a call for more people to volunteer their time to the local fire department and EMS, showing how the service of the men and women on call all day ever week does not go unoticed, and how the dedication and service can affect and save lives.

“They’re out at 2 or 3 in the morning helping people, and the rest of us are sleeping,” she said. “The ambulances, the fire departments, we need volunteers, we need volunteers to keep people safe.”

The name Thomas Lateulere is an addition to 20th street, so that maps will not be affected or changed, and so that the renaming doesn’t lead to confusion. Lateulere might have appreciated that — just another small sacrifice for even the smallest greater good.

“I think he would be shy and embarrassed by it, all this hoopla,” Hopkins said. “But I think he would secretly be quite proud.”

Local fire districts salute Thomas Lateulere, as HIS coffin is carried out of St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

By Wenhao Ma

The Wading River community bid farewell Friday to an impactful, friendly and unforgettable first responder.

Many gathered at St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River Friday morning to attend the funeral of Thomas Lateulere, the director of training and education for Suffolk County’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Council, and former commissioner of the Wading River Fire District.

Lateulere, 52, who by many was referred to as a “true gentleman” and “professional man,” died of an illness on June 27. A wake was held on June 30, at the Wading Fire Department headquarters.

“He was a selfless guy,” said Kevin McQueeney, first assistant chief of the Wading River Fire Department, who had known Lateulere for 35 years. “When he was sick, he didn’t tell anybody how sick he was. He’s just a selfless, selfless individual.”

Locals pay respect to Thomas Lateulere during mass outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma
Locals pay respect to Thomas Lateulere during mass outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

Lateulere, who worked up until days before his death, joined the fire department right after high school, as a volunteer, in 1981, and by the following year, was a trained firefighter and emergency medical technician. He spent time as one of the first flight paramedics to fly with Suffolk County police’s emergency aviation unit, and according to Tony Bitalvo, second assistant chief of the Wading River Fire Department, Lateulere was an advocate for the pilot program, among other pilot programs. He served as an advocate at the state level.

Lateulere also convinced the department to get involved with cutting-edge technologies and ways to save lives, such as narcan, an anti-overdose treatment, which he pushed for as leader of Suffolk REMSCO.

“The things he brought to our department was unprecedented,” Bitalvo said. “He’s just somebody we always relied and counted on. It’s a tremendous loss for the Wading River Fire Department and the community in general.”

The Huntington Community First Aid Squad showed respect to Lateulere by thanking him “for all his service to our organization and the entire EMS community” on its official Facebook page.

Bitalvo said that Lateulere had influenced Emergency Medical Technicians across Long Island.

“His training and patience touched every aspect of the EMS field,” he said.

Bernice Bien-Aime, the Chief of Operations Wyandanch-Wheatley Heights Ambulance Corp., had one such experience with Lateulere. When the two first met in 1995, Bien-Aime was a rookie EMT. She remembers Lateulere as a humble, caring and passionate person.

“I’ve always heard of paramedics having the ‘Paragod’ complex,” Bien-Aime said, but immediately got the vibe from Lateulere that with him, it was quite the opposite. “Now here comes Tom, literally coming from the sky, and he was the kindest paramedic.”

The Wading River Fire Department honors Thomas Lateulere during mass, outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma
The Wading River Fire Department honors Thomas Lateulere during mass, outside St. John the Baptist R. C. Church in Wading River on July 1. Photo by Wenhao Ma

She recalled Latuelere’s reassurance and help following taking the Suffolk County protocol exam to become a credentialed EMT. Although her Advanced Emergency Medical Technician -Critical Care certification was completed in Nassau County, she wanted to work in Suffolk.

After taking the test, Lauteulere, seeing she was nervous, called Bien-Aime to the side.

“Relax, you got this,” she recalls Lauteulere telling her.

“Oh, I passed?” she asked in response.

“No,” she remembers him answering, with a smile. “If this was Nassau County, yes. But this is Suffolk. Our protocols are different. You know this stuff. Now relax and remember you’re in Suffolk. Now, retake your test.”

Thousands of first responders went through Lauteulere directly, learning how to save lives from a man who demanded perfection and knew how to bring it out in his fellow emergency medical teams.

“[He was] patient with this rookie EMT,” Bien-Aime said. “That is a feeling I’ve never forgotten.”

Sharing a similar feeling was Branden Heller, who is now the third assistant chief of Wading River Fire Department. Fifteen years ago when he first came to the department, Lateulere was the chief.

“[He’s] a major inspiration and a natural leader,” Heller said.

Many at the funeral looked to Lateulere as not only an influential figure in the EMS community, but the community itself.

“He saved countless lives,” McQueeney said of Lateulere. “He’s irreplaceable, and I firmly believe that.”

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