09/14/12 8:00am
09/14/2012 8:00 AM
Heidi Behr, Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance

NEWS-REVIEW FILE PHOTO | The future Heidi Behr Memorial Park & Boardwalk?

It’s heroes week in the United States, as it is every year around the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

TV, newspapers and Facebook abound with images and remembrances of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001, with a spotlight on the men and women who ran to their deaths to save others.

Sept. 11 has become a sort of de facto memorial day for the country’s much-deserving emergency responders.

So there may be no better time than now to remark on one of Riverhead’s greatest fallen heroes — volunteer EMT Heidi Behr — and how we could best honor her memory.

Heidi was killed in an ambulance crash while responding to a call in May 2005. William Stone, a paramedic from Rocky Point, was also killed in the crash.

They were part of a crew rushing a heart attack victim to the hospital when their ambulance struck a tree on Main Road in Aquebogue.

Heidi, only 23 at the time, left behind a 13-month-old son, Jared, who is blind and suffers from epilepsy, cerebral palsy and brain damage. Ever since the crash, he’s been raised by Heidi’s parents, John and June, with the help of their other daughter, Dana.

The outpouring of support this family has received from fellow ambulance and fire volunteers and others since Heidi’s death has been awe-inspiring.

When it was becoming nearly impossible for the Behrs to continue raising Jared, who cannot walk, in their modest 800-square-foot house on Riverside Drive, a group of local people and businesses donated time and money to rebuild the Cutchogue home of June Behr’s late parents and make it fully handicapped accessible.

It’s now a place where Jared can grow — with plenty of room for his necessary support equipment — as his grandparents age.

And through the effort to rebuild that house, the Heidi’s Helping Angels community support group was born.

Volunteers with Heidi’s Helping Angels are at work every year now, mostly raising money for scholarships for Riverhead and Mercy high school students in Heidi’s name. In fact, next Thursday night is the group’s annual steak dinner fundraiser at Polish Hall. At last year’s event, Peconic Bay Medical Center pledged an annual $5,000 donation to the Heidi Behr Memorial Scholarship Fund.

These examples of one community’s outpouring of support are why I always tell people that if they ever, God forbid, found themselves facing some life-threatening injury or otherwise in need of help after a tragedy, they would be so lucky to live in Riverhead.

This is a community that rallies like no other I’ve witnessed on Long Island.

Which is why it’s beyond my understanding that more than seven years after her death, no government property has been named in Heidi Behr’s honor. I can’t think of a more deserving person to have a highway or bridge named after her.

In town and in the schools we have dozens of places and structures, big and small, named for people. Think of all the parks named after politicians, including Stotzky Memorial Park, Milton L. Burns Park and Lombardi Park.

Yet nothing for Heidi Behr.

Here was a volunteer, a 23-year-old single mother, who died in the line of duty trying to save another person’s life. And she wasn’t just an ambulance member; she was one of the best. Heidi had received “Top Responder” and “Corpsman of the Year” awards with the ambulance corps.

She may be the town’s greatest fallen hero outside of Medal of Honor recipient Garfield Langhorn.

While we live in a world full of complainers, young and old alike, dwelling on what they haven’t got, this young women gave herself — not only to her son and her family, but to her community.

Imagine just a playground named for Heidi. Children across Riverhead might then be asking who she was.

She was one of the best our community has ever produced, parents would answer. She was a true role model.

I’ll float one bold idea right here. The riverfront boardwalk park downtown is in need of a namesake. It should be named the Heidi Behr Memorial Park & Boardwalk. Throughout most of the year, the park is a quiet, tranquil place, with the placid Peconic River as its centerpiece. It’s a place many of us stop to sit and reflect. It would be fitting.

Heidi Behr grew up just a short walk from the Peconic River as a kid. A young hero in the making.

Michael White is the editor of the News-Review. He can be reached at mwhite@timesreview.com or 631-298-3200, ext. 152.

07/17/12 3:00pm
07/17/2012 3:00 PM
BARBARELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp board president Kim Porkorny (center) and vice president Joe Sokoloski (far left) accepted donation s from 'Heidi's Helping Angels' honoree members (from left) June and John Behr and president Jim Stark Tuesday afternoon.

BARBARELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corp board president Kim Porkorny (center) and vice president Joe Sokoloski (far left) accepted donation s from ‘Heidi’s Helping Angels’ honoree members (from left) June and John Behr and president Jim Stark Tuesday afternoon.

Former Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps chief Ron Rowe is back home recovering after being airlifted from the scene of a car accident earlier this month.

But while the 47-year-old faces a long road to recovery, ambulance volunteers, fire departments, neighbors and friends have rallied to help his family through the tough times, raising more than $2,000 since the crash.

The fundraiser just received its largest donation yet from a foundation set up in memory of a Riverhead volunteer who was killed in an ambulance accident seven years ago. Heidi’s Helping Angels Inc. donated $500 Tuesday afternoon to the effort to help Mr. Rowe and his 22-year-old daughter, Alyssa, who was also injured in the crash.

The Rowes were hospitalized after their pickup truck smashed into the back of a delivery truck on Middle Country Road on July 6.

According to police, the two were driving westbound in a black Chevrolet Silverado about 5 p.m. when they crashed into a Peter’s Fruit Company truck driven by Edward Eastman of Mastic, which was stopped in the road trying to make a left turn.

Mr. Eastman was not hurt.

Riverhead firefighters had to cut away the truck’s roof and door to remove the victims, said police Sgt. Tim Palmer.

Mr. Rowe, a volunteer with the corps for more than 20 years who had also served as board president, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Medical Center, while his daughter was taken by ambulance to the same hospital.

Ms. Rowe, a lieutenant in the corps, was released from the hospital and is still on crutches.

She marched, albeit on a medical bed, with her fellow ambulance volunteers during the Jamesport Fire Department parade last week.

It is unknown how long Mr. Rowe will be recovering from his injuries, said current corps board president Kim Pokorny, adding that he must eat through a syringe after he underwent surgery to repair his face.

Heidi’s Helping Angels was founded in memory of Heidi Behr, a 23-year-old single mother and ambulance volunteer who was killed on the job when the ambulance she was in struck a tree in Aquebogue during a call in 2005.

Another ambulance worker, William Stone, also died in the crash.

The organization normally gives thousands of dollars in scholarships to graduating seniors who volunteer for community service, said president and former Riverhead supervisor Jim Stark. But the group quickly decided that donating to the Rowes fund was the right thing to do.

“It spread very quickly among our board of directors,” Mr. Stark said. “I got responses within five minutes from all seven of them: ‘No problem.’

“Everyone felt so strongly about giving back to those who gave back to us.”

Mr. Stark said it’s moments like the Behr tragedy or the Rowes’ accident that remind the community just how much volunteers in the ambulance corps and fire department sacrifice for others.

“I think we take a lot of things for granted,” he said. “The fire department, the ambulance corps, they’ll always be there for us.”

It’s not just Heidi’s Helping Angels who have donated. According to the fundraiser’s website, Riverhead Fire Department dispatchers, Jamesport Fire Department volunteers and others have donated hundreds of dollars to the cause.

Visit http://www.gofundme.com/Rally-For-Ronnie to donate.

Friends will also holding a car wash to benefit the family this Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Chase Bank near Walmart on Route 58.
psquire@timesreview.com