2008 Officer Memorial Award
Officer Thomas Devlin, Boston College
The year is 1988, a young officer, with just five years “on the job,” is sitting quietly in his cruiser as his shift draws to a close. Little did he know how the next twenty minutes would impact his career at Boston College.
It was surely a mischievous act and most likely one of the students that Tom Devlin was sworn to protect that caused this turmoil. Who ever it was, that person threw a military grade tear gas canister down the second floor corridor of Edmonds Hall, a high-rise dorm on lower campus. Just another college prank, no harm intended but what a profound impact on the health of one officer.
The alarm goes off and into the total confusion rushes Officer Devlin. Hit hard right away with the gas and fighting to control his natural instinct to run, he spearheads the evacuation of the 800 bed building. Deep into his lungs the gas is inhaled and the damage slowly begins. Even after he finally makes it out to fresh air he continues to triage the numerous choking and hysterical students. During this treatment and contamination process he continues to be exposed to tear gas particles clinging to the student’s clothing. More and more damage is being done, his breathing is labored, but he continues to do his duty even as other officers are overcome and transported away from the scene by ambulance. Asked several times to quit, he would respond with what would become his standard answer, “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
When it is over, twenty-five students and five police officers are in various local hospitals. All would be out shortly, except Officer Devlin. When he was eventually released, he spent a year fighting to recover and return to work. Back for five weeks in the fall of 1989 his lungs just would not support his spirit to give his standard 110%. Out this time for another eight months, he makes it back in April of 1990 but never to be the same.
The exposure to the chemicals caused Officer Devlin to suffer burns to over 65% of his lungs. He was hospitalized several times with viral infections as a result of the injuries. After all these years the person who set off the tear gas still remains unidentified.
Officer Devlin’s lungs suffered further damage in May 1999 when he responded to a fire in another residence hall and was exposed to the smoke while again evacuating residents.
Officer Thomas Devlin died on April 6, 2007, at the age of 51 after being medically forced to retire in 2004. He’d spent years on the Boston College Police Department fighting infections, asthma, and the punishing side effects of steroid treatments and chemotherapy made necessary by the injuries his lungs sustained from the searing fumes that September night.
Officer Devlin served with the Boston College Police Department for 21 years. He is survived by his wife, daughter, parents, brother, and two sisters.
Officer Devlin was nominated by Chief Robert A. Morse of the Boston College Police Department.