Super Senior: Tom Woodard - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Super Senior: Tom Woodard

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Tom Woodard Jr. Tom Woodard Jr.
1984 1984
Tom Woodard Sr. Tom Woodard Sr.

Meet Tom Woodard's kids. He and his wife, Ruth, have five golden retrievers. At one point, they had 13.

The Jericho residents have rescued many dogs through the years, but Tom, 84, is also known for saving people. It started after an accident that hit close to home.

"They hit that vehicle and was thrown about 50 feet," Tom said.

On July 2, 1971, Tom's life and his son's life changed forever.

"A woman was coming this way to get gasoline and they collided just past that fire hydrant," he said.

Tom Jr. was just shy of his 17th birthday and riding on the back of a motorcycle in Underhill. The accident left him severely injured.

When Tom Sr. got to the scene, something bothered him.

"I didn't know anything, a little bit about first aid; where to put a Band-Aid and where not to. But it just seem to me if someone has a back injury, you don't have them sit up," he said.

The younger Woodard was transported to the hospital. Tom rode in the back of the ambulance, hoping his son would be OK. X-rays showed otherwise.

"It had a little bend in it and he was paralyzed from here down," Tom said.

But he decided to turn his son's tragedy into something positive.

"That got me interested in rescue," Tom said. "And I took EMT courses, first aid courses."

He became a first responder for the Essex rescue squad, spending his weekends dedicating his time helping people.  He's been on hundreds of calls. But one stands out.

"I was blown away," Tom said. "I didn't know what to find."

It was in the summer of 1984 and after a night of heavy rainfall, a beaver dam in Williston gave out and destroyed part of the train track. The train and its cars toppled over the embankment.

"So I got on and drove to the scene."

Tom raced down the tracks in his truck, getting two flat tires. But that was a minor concern-- the passengers desperately needed help.

"Everyone pitched in to help," Tom said. "They did everything they could to get those people out."

It was one of the worst mass casualty scenes the state has ever seen. Five people died and 140 were injured. It's something Tom will never forget. He continued to serve with Essex rescue for years after the Amtrak derailment.

Tom Jr. died a little over a year ago from bladder cancer and other complications.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Is it difficult to see these pictures?

Tom Woodard: No, it brings back happy times.

He savors the memories and thinks how his life changed so dramatically in an instant four decades ago.

"And I think his dealing with his injury, over the years has made me a stronger person," Tom said.

A man who turned a tragedy into a lifetime of service.

That service continued way past his rescue days. Just last year at 83, Tom retired from Vermont Emergency Management after working there for 20 years.

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