The story of Heidi Behr is well-known in the Riverhead community at this point.
And though the ending was a tragic one — the 23-year-old Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps volunteer was killed in a crash with one of her fellow volunteers, leaving behind her young son — the positive values she embodied were celebrated Thursday night, as three other members of the community were recognized for doing the same thing Ms. Behr did: put their own time, safety and even sometimes their lives on the line in the name of helping others.
“The things they’ve done make them each standouts in the community,” said Ron Schmitt, a member of the board of Heidi’s Helping Angels, the nonprofit that organized Thursday’s event, which drew over 300 people. Proceeds will go to two high school student scholarships.
The organization honors volunteer EMS members, firefighters, and/or members of the police department each year.
Betty Harris, Walker “Sonny” Turner, and Howard Waldman were all honored at Thursday’s dinner at the Polish Hall. Honored posthumously, Mr. Turner’s wife of 61 years, Hattie, accepted the award on his behalf.
“He was the type of person that was always taught by his parents to have a care for other people,” said Ms. Turner, who met her husband walking the halls of Riverhead High School. “This just made me feel honored.”
Mr. Turner died in April at the age of 83 following a long illness. He was well known around Riverhead to have a camera on him at the scene of any fire, snapping photos for Fire News and many area departments themselves. In addition to his photography work, he counseled inmates at the county jail and — of course — responded to plenty of calls with the RVAC. He was only one of two recipients of a lifetime achievement award from the corps.
The other was Ms. Harris, who was also honored on Thursday night.
“I’ll always remember what my mama said,” Ms. Harris said on Thursday. “‘If I can help one somebody along the way, than my life shall not be in vain.'”
Though her time in the RVAC — at this point, 33 years and still going strong — almost didn’t happen, she said. She recalled her first night on duty, at the scene of a car accident at the intersection of Northville Turnpike and Middle Road. Tasked with getting a burn sheet for the victim in a rig she was still getting familiar with, she started shaking uncontrollably.
“I was ready to give up,” she said. A visit from the chief the next day — at the time, current Councilman John Dunleavy — restored her confidence forevermore.
Ms. Harris said what she remembers most about her time with the RVAC is her time with Mr. Turner, as well as fellow volunteer Keith Lewin.
As her son Dwayne said, “Sometimes I’m like, ‘You know you can let other people go, right?’ But that’s just the way she was.”
Mr. Waldman — Jamesport Fire Department’s firefighter of the year last year — found himself staring at a sunset at Iron Pier Beach exactly one year ago today, the only person around to help out one driver who had accidentally backed down the boat ramp instead of pulling up.
“The next thing I knew, the headlights were watching me from underneath the water,” he said. “That was strange.”
After paddling out to the boat, Mr. Waldman informed the driver — who was attempting to get out of his window feet first — that he would have to turn around in order to get out safely. The off-duty volunteer pulled the man out of his car, and 45 minutes later, the automobile was completely submerged.