Helene’s heroes

The Fire Department volunteers. Photo provided

CHESTER, Vt. – Many have probably heard about the storm that swept through Chester on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. The microburst, a localized weather phenomenon similar to a small tornado, hit Chester just before 4 p.m., knocking out power for more than half the village. Telephone poles and trees were knocked down, powerlines lay on the roads, and many areas of the town were unreachable by car. For Helene of High Street, a former public school teacher and a Chester resident since the 1970s, this meant that upon returning from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center that day, the road was impassable.

“We [the Town of Chester] were without power for 28 hours,” said Helene in a recent interview. According to her, as of Monday, July 18, the town is still cleaning up debris from the storm.

Helene, who has asked that her full name not be included in this article, had obtained the services of a Southeast Vermont Transit nonprofit known as MOOver to take her to and from a surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock. The free public transport uses buses, painted cowhide black-and-white, to support people in the Rockingham and Wilmington areas in need of transportation. On July 12, MOOver volunteer Steven Nichols of Alstead, N.H., was driving Helene to her home on High Street when they were blocked by downed trees. “It wasn’t bad until we hit Chester,” said Nichols of the storm. But upon reaching High Street, Nichols and Helene realized that to reach Helene’s house, she would have to walk a half-mile up the steep road, in the storm, while still experiencing the aftereffects of anesthesia, if she wanted to make it indoors. “I told him [Nichols] three times,” said Helene during the interview, “you gotta go home. I’ll wait.” She told Nichols that she would wait on the side of the road until the storm had passed. “He wouldn’t hear of it,” Helene said.

Nichols waited with Helene for an hour-and-a-half while the two made calls to MOOvers, the local police, the state police, and the Town Office to try to get someone to High Street. It isn’t surprising however that they weren’t able to get immediate help. According to Chester Fire Department Chief Matthew Wilson, the Department received seventeen calls in three hours during the course of the storm. They were stretched thin, and had to call in the Proctorsville Fire Department to help out. So, Nichols drove Helene to the Fire Department door, spoke with Chief Wilson, and Wilson was able to provide six volunteers to follow the MOOver bus back to High Street. There, the volunteers placed Helene on a stretcher and wheeled her up the steep incline. “One guy had to lead with a rake,” said Helene. “There was debris everywhere.” The Fire Department volunteers managed to return Helene safely to her home, where she expressed her gratitude with words and chocolates. “They were very conscientious, very kind,” said Helene. “Could not have been kinder.”

The former public school teacher reached out to the Vermont Journal to honor those who made her safe return home possible, dubbing Nichols and the volunteers as “heroes.” No one involved – not Nichols, the Fire Department, or Helene – has asked for any personal recognition in this matter. None of them seem to think they themselves did anything particularly heroic. But this act of kindness and resolution – a refusal to abandon a person in need, a determination to wheel her home through the wind and rain and falling trees, and a dedication to making sure that the deed did not go unrecognized – has all the marks of heroism. As Helene said, “We need good news too at a time like this.”

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