There are few Suffolk County first responders who don’t know the name Thomas Lateulere, the chief of training and education for the county’s Regional Emergency Medical Services Council (REMSCO).
Thousands of first responders went through him 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.
News of Mr. Lateulere’s death this week spread quickly through the fire services, with online groups sharing messages and fire officials mourning the loss of a “legend” in their field. The magnitude of that loss still hasn’t sunk in, said Wading River ex-chief William Savage.
“He’s touched lives of almost every EMT and EMS worker in Suffolk County,” Mr. Savage said.
Southold assistant fire chief and EMT Peggy Killian — who learned to save lives from Mr. Lateulere — went a step further. “You couldn’t ask for a better teacher,” she said. “He was probably the most respected guy in the county.”
Mr. Lateulere, who was the chairman of the Wading River Fire District and whose training helped inspire a generation of first responders, died from an illness, fire officials said. He was 52.
“When a guy is 52 years old and the dear Lord takes him, it … it pulls the rug out from under you,” said Mr. Savage, who was a fire chief when Mr. Lateulere first joined the department out of high school 35 years ago.
“There’s probably about a thousand people who are going to attend his funeral,” added Wading River assistant fire chief Kevin McQueeney. “He was a leader. Everybody just really respected the guy.”
As a leader at Suffolk REMSCO, Mr. Lateulere pushed for narcan, an anti-overdose treatment, to be made available for local fire responders and helped train departments on how to use the medicine, fire officials said.
He was also one of the first flight paramedics to fly with the Suffolk County police’s emergency aviation unit, and was instrumental in bringing round-the-clock fire responders to his hometown fire department in Wading River.
Mr. Lateulere joined the Wading River Fire Department as a volunteer out of high school in 1981. By the next year, he was a trained firefighter and emergency medical technician.
“He was raring to go when he walked through the door,” Mr. Savage added. “It wasn’t about him at all. He was very passionate about saving lives and property and that’s what we do.”
He took a job with Suffolk REMSCO and became the leader of their training program. Soon he was teaching his fellow firefighters and chiefs, like Mr. Savage and Greg Meyer, a firefighter and EMT at Brookhaven National Laboratory and a former member of the Wading River Fire Department.
“He wouldn’t accept anything less than perfection,” Mr. Meyer said. “He taught that way, he performed that way, and if you were around him, he’d expect you to be the same.”
As a leader at REMSCO, Mr. Lateulere was also key to bringing pilot programs to the county and serving as an advocate at the state level. Chief Killian said Mr. Lateulere often allowed Southold Fire Department to test new ideas to help save lives and Mr. Meyer — who worked often with Mr. Lateulere — said the ex-chief handled the “huge responsibility” better than anyone.
“He was always in the forefront,” Mr. Meyer said. “He always had a vision where Suffolk County EMS and all their providers should be and would be … It just blew me away. He was just so far ahead. He was a cut above the rest.”
That influence extended beyond Suffolk County to neighboring Nassau County and throughout the state, Mr. Meyer added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Lateulere worked his way up the ranks of his volunteer department, earning the rank of chief from 2003 to 2004. In 2005, Mr. Lateulere joined the fire district’s board of commissioners and helped shape the department’s future. He was awarded Firefighter of the Year honors in 2007, said Chief McQueeney.
“He was just a selfless, selfless person,” he said. “Even when he was sick he’d still come down here and do his job.”
None at the Wading River Fire Department knew how ill Fire Commissioner Thomas Lateulere really was, Mr. Savage said. Mr. Lateulere never wanted to make anything about himself. Instead he worked constantly, sending out emails and working just a few days before his death.
“He gave all the way to the end,” Mr. Savage said.
Now firefighters across the county are preparing to pay their respects. Hundreds are expected to attend his funeral services in Wading River this week, with shuttle buses in place to accommodate the mourners. Some departments’ first responder teams are working together to drive far from their homes to attend Mr. Lateulere’s services.
“He’s been a mentor to I would say 95 percent of EMS people in this county,” Mr. Savage said. “He has touched their lives.”
Top Photo Caption: Mourners pay tribute to Thomas Lateulere Thursday night at the Wading River Fire Department. (Credit: Nicole Smith)