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After the Lawrence Gas Explosions

When gas explosions and fires devastated Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, Massachusetts on the evening of September 13, hundreds of Vinfen staff worked together to make sure the people we serve were safe and supported. Thousands of residents in the three affected towns were evacuated from their homes, including 180 people in Vinfen services and many of our staff. As emergency crews went door-to-door to turn off the gas to over 8,600 homes, the Vinfen Facilities team worked late into the evening securing the residences we support.

With evacuations underway, Vinfen’s Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT), Adult Community Clinical Services (ACCS), Behavioral Health Community Partner Services (BHCP), and the Clubhouses sprang into action, working together to make sure every person who receives our services was safe and had a place to stay if they could not be home.

“When the explosions occurred, the first thought I had as a supervisor was to check that my staff were safe,” said Vinfen ACCS Team 2 Leader Kelli Fowle. “I immediately called and texted them. But what was remarkable was the staff was not focused on themselves, but the people they serve. They wanted to know if people were okay, if they were impacted, and what they could do to help. It was really remarkable. All during the rest of that evening and the next day, my staff and I made sure people were safe and had access to their medications, coordinating with Visiting Nurse Associations, and helping people get to emergency rooms if they needed medical care,” Kelli added.

On the night of the explosions, Baybridge Clubhouse in Hyannis, Massachusetts was hosting their 30th Anniversary Celebration. Members from Haverhill Clubhouse and Point After Club in Lawrence, Massachusetts drove three hours south to attend the event and support this incredible achievement. When the arrived, they heard news of the explosions and members were understandably worried. Point After Club Program Director Tom Coppinger and Haverhill Clubhouse Employment Specialist Linda Coppinger immediately began helping members make phone calls to loved ones. They worked throughout the event to ensure every member had a warm place to stay that evening and their necessary personal items. Following the event, Tom and Linda split up their routes and went in two different directions to get everyone to a safe place. “We did end up getting everyone where they needed to go. The best thing I can say was how wonderful the people we serve were. They worked with us, made their calls, and were as calm as they could be. They supported one another,” Linda explained.

“I have to say, I think our staff in all our Clubhouses are amazing at being there for folks when things go south, but the efforts of Tom and Linda were exceptional. What could have been a really scary night ended up being okay for the folks at the event. I am so grateful for the work that Tom and Linda do each day, and I know we are really fortunate to have them in our Clubhouses, and as a part of the Vinfen Team,” shared Vinfen Director of Day Services Kristi Joyce.

Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Director of Community Services Linda Simons applauded the Vinfen community for their exceptional efforts. “Please express our thanks to all the Vinfen staff who had a role in assisting with this event, the response was timely, professional and all that we could have hoped for. We will work collaboratively with you to continue to assess the longer term impact and identify any particular needs. Thank you for jumping in and being a great partner,” Linda stated.

“The Vinfen staff, even in the face of managing their own personal housing situations, showed such commitment and dedication, and provided an organized, professional, and caring response in the face of crisis,” said Department of Mental Health Area Director Sue Wing. “I cannot thank you enough for this and the work that you continue to do every day, and the partnerships that show day-in and day-out with us, families, and consumers in our services.”

Even though spring is just around the corner, Vinfen continues to work to support the people we serve through the challenges brought on by the gas explosions in Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover. “Thankfully, everyone has their heat back! We had about a dozen folks who were in the affected areas that went without heat through early November. Around half chose to stay with family, and the rest took up the City and received heaters and hot plates. We assisted them in showering at the YMCA or offered an alternative residential location,” said Vice President Northeast Area and Behavioral Health Jeanne Russo.

“Vinfen gave me choices for resources, reassuring me, and gave me support,” said Mark, a person who receives services from Vinfen. “Vinfen processed and supported me during the tough time and made sure I had warm blankets. The staff was 100% behind me and helped me acquire a heater for warmth.”

Pictured above is Kelli and Mark.