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Lights in the Darkness

by Nancy Francis

Posted on August 25, 2007 at 8:20 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:33 PM

Fires. Killings. Crashes. Attacks. Accidents. Unspeakable losses of all varieties. So many of the stories that make news are about sorrow. When you're a reporter with a front row seat to so much tragedy, it can be disheartening. I personally believe we could do a better job shining a light on good things that are happening, or at least, being part of a more solution-oriented discussion. But there's no question tragedy is real. A redemptive corollary is that tragedy often brings out remarkable compassion, the proverbial kindness of strangers. In the darkness, glimmering lights are most visible and most needed.

Despite all the tragedies I've covered in my 22 years (this month) at KGW, I'd never heard of the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) until last week. How could that be? The program receives about 150 calls a month from the Portland-Vancouver area, dispatching volunteers who offer emotional support during and after traumatic events.

Recently, I covered the death of a 29-year-old construction worker, Edward Manley of Boring. He was working in a trench, putting in a sewer line when the trench collapsed. What started out as a routine day on the job turned out to be the end of his life. During my follow-up calls with the Gresham Fire bureau to discuss the valiant rescue efforts, Deputy Chief Jim Klum told me he called TIP soon after the accident because it was clear the other construction workers at the site were traumatized to see their co-worker critically hurt and trapped in the trench. He said three TIP volunteers rushed to the site, arriving even before investigators from OSHA got there.

Manley died from his injuries early the next day. Once again, TIP volunteers were called out to offer support to his co-workers, at the request of the owner of the construction company.

That same day, a 4-alarm fire broke out at an apartment complex in Milwaukie. Another trio of TIP volunteers arrived as displaced residents watched the fire rage through their homes.

June Vining, an employee of the Portland Fire Bureau, oversees the Portland/Vancouver branch of TIP, which now includes 160 volunteers and the first teen TIP program in the nation. Upon signing up for the program, volunteers are screened ( "We don't want any badge bunnies," says June) and fingerprinted. After undergoing 58-hours of training in 2-and-a-half weeks, they commit to being on-call for three 12-hour shifts a month.

While a few of the volunteers are mental health professionals, most are not. They simply have a heart for bringing something good to horrible situations: emotional first-aid. It's too late to sign up for the training sessions now underway. The next round starts in the spring. If you're interested in being part of TIP, here is the email address:
And the next time you see a tragic news story, think of the good people who may be lights in the darkness.