A troubled man appears out of nowhere and starts shooting into a crowd. People are rushed to the hospital and bystanders are in shock. A woman wakes to find her husband has hung himself in the closet. A hiker sees his best friend slip and fall to his death. Who helps people through the initial unreal hours following these experiences?

The Trauma Intervention Program Is a corps of 170 volunteers providing assistance to members of our community in emergency situations. When first responders (police, fire, search and rescue) feel there is an immediate need for a calm and caring presence, TIP volunteers are dispatched to be with the people our emergency system must leave behind.

It is TIP’s 20th anniversary this year. More than 14,000 people in this region were served in the past year alone. In a world in which tragedy never sleeps, we are dispatched 24 hours a day, 365 days a year: a young man setting himself on fire in downtown Portland; a little girl swept away in the Clackamas River; shootings at schools, shopping malls, bowling alleys and nightclubs.

For every sensational public event, there are countless private tragedies, memorable only in those circles in which they occur. We’re summoned to homes where death has slipped away with a beloved family member and to hospitals where people wait in agony for words of hope from medical staff. Sometimes we have to remind our clients to breathe. In order to serve them well, we sometimes have to remind ourselves to detach.

Much is made of professional lapses of police judgment and failures of their training, but TIP volunteers bear witness to the unsung kindnesses individual police officers extend to people on the worst days of their lives. Medical examiners offer up difficult truths in courteous tones to bereaved families: your wife left a note, your son died of an overdose, your baby suffocated. When infants die, detectives and investigators must conduct interviews. Difficult circumstances are navigated with grace by these professionals, their work little understood and often questioned.

TIP volunteers stay by our phones, our cars full of gas and stocked with crackers, bottled water, sun block and teddy bears - ready for whatever fresh hell might break loose on our shift. We don’t know what we’ll find when we’re dispatched. It’s better that way, arriving on scene without preconceived ideas, canned scripts or prepared solutions. What we say and do to provide emotional first aid and practical support comes from our comprehensive training academy and from the wisdom that resides in every human heart.

Like those we serve, we come from all walks: teenagers, retirees, straight, gay, poor, affluent, believers and nonbelievers. We are Realtors, nurses, fishermen, librarians, teachers, students and chefs. There are currently 14 TIP affiliates nationwide. The model can be replicated in any community with a beating heart and the impulse to help neighbors in need.

For information about the Trauma Intervention Program, visit

Margaret Herrington is a resident of Portland.