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.”
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.”
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.”