LYNNWOOD — Phyllis and Bill Butler do not remember much about the first hours of that terrible morning when they awoke to find their home in flames and the lives of two of their children ended by a fire.
But they will never forget the volunteers who stood by their side on that December 1991 day, offering words of comfort and a warm place for their surviving son inside a specially designed van.
“Support 7 was a tremendous blessing in our life,” Phyllis Butler said. “I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
The agency and its aging 1974 van, a remodeled Edmonds Fire Department Medic unit, has helped thousands of people since the program started in 1986. The Support 7 van — a rolling canteen, office and living room for people in crisis — has responded to house fires, search-and-rescue missions and many other grim scenes in south Snohomish County.
On Nov. 24 it was replaced by Support 7 II, a new mini motor-coach equipped with a large seating area, restroom, shower, refrigerator, stove, sophisticated communications equipment and fold-down canteen. It also stores a tent that can be set up for firefighters and police.
The larger vehicle will allow the team of volunteers and chaplains, who are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, to respond to more communities in Snohomish County and provide a more comfortable area to care for families, said Ken Gaydos, a chaplain and director of Support 7.
“The lengthier calls were always tough for us,” he said. “We did the best we could, but this will allow us to serve more events and more families.”
The on-scene assistance program based in Edmonds and Lynnwood was the first of its kind in the country, and has since been modeled by more than 500 cities worldwide.
It was created by Gaydos after a drowning near the Edmonds waterfront. The family of the victim waited in the backseat of a police car during the long search, and Gaydos saw the need to provide a place to care for families and friends whose lives have suddenly been touched by pain.
That family and others aided by Support 7 were remembered Nov. 24, and plaques in their honor will be placed inside Support 7’s new vehicle, Gaydos said, adding that many volunteers spent hours modifying the vehicle for its new mission.
“Out of brokenness and tragedy, good can come,” he said. “We’ve focused a lot lately on New York City, Columbine and Oklahoma City but … there’s a daily need for help for people experiencing tragedy here.”
Thirty-three chaplains and volunteers staff the new vehicle, including Jim Cudney who became a volunteer after helping sell the new vehicle to Support 7.
“I wanted to volunteer my time after Sept. 11, and after hearing from Ken about the background of Support 7 and how it helped families, I wanted to get involved,” Cudney said.
Volunteers responded with the new vehicle for the first time Nov. 3, going to the Everett home of retired Boeing machinist George Salyer, 101, who died in a house fire.
“It was a really cold morning, and his family members had a long wait before we knew” about Salyer’s fate, chaplain Bob Lewis said. “(Support 7 II) was a great shelter for the family.”
Katherine Schiffner is a reporter for the Herald in Everett.
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