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.”
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.”
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.”