Stoughton Firefighters Recall Experience at Ground Zero in Days Following 9/11 Attacks
Jeff Ledin, Greg Bourget and Don Staples of the SFD went to the New York City in the days following Sept. 11, 2001 with the Critical Stress Management Team to offer assistance to crews at Ground Zero. Ledin and Bourget share their experiences.
Jeff Ledin’s train pulled into New York’s Grand Central Station on Sept. 14, 2001, three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, and he could still see smoke billowing from the site of the World Trade Center.
Ledin along with Greg Bourget and Don Staples, were the three members of the Stoughton Fire Department who went to New York in the days following 9/11 to help assist emergency crews at Ground Zero.
“It still feels like yesterday,” Ledin said of his experience. “There was debris everywhere; couldn’t even imagine how bad it was.”
“To this day, it is still surreal,” Bourget said. “There was an unbelievable amount of destruction. In the pile of rubble, there was nothing that resembled an office building.”
Except for paper. Ledin and Bourget both described seeing pieces of paper “everywhere.”
Ledin went to NYC with the Bristol/Norfolk County Critical Stress Management Team. Bourget arrived at Ground Zero a couple of days before Ledin with the Plymouth County team (he lived in East Bridgewater at the time).
Their roles were to offer peer counseling and support to emergency responders—“making sure people were mentally able to keep working,” as Bourget puts it.
“[We were] someone who works in the same field [and could] understand what they were going through,” Bourget said.
Critical Stress Management Teams also offered support for the families of firefighters and first responders.
“They felt comfort in having a brother firefighter talking to them,” Ledin said. “I hope we brought comfort to them. I think we did.”
Ledin recalls seeing panic in the streets of New York; people walking with pictures of missing loved ones. But one of the moments he recalls from his five-day stay at Ground Zero was the kind gesture of a Red Cross worker at a FEMA checkpoint.
As the firefighters were making their way in the Red Cross was there handing out water. One worker reached out and stuck a sliver, nickel-plated cross on the back of Ledin’s helmet, which he still has ten years later.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 Ledin saw the events unfold on his kitchen TV in his Stoughton home. He said he remembers thinking of all of the firefighters going into the World Trade Center—343 firefighters died that day.
“These are guys we never met, but it really hits home,” Ledin said.
Almost 3,000 died in the attacks that day, which saw two hijacked commercial airliners crash into the World Trade Center, another crash into the Pentagon in Washington, and United Airlines Flight 93 crash in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Bourget said the images of the planes crashing and exploding “looked like special effects in a move”—a sentiment Ledin echoed.
“[But we] saw it in real life,” Ledin said.
Bourget said it’s hard for him to talk about his experiences at Ground Zero in the days following Sept. 11.
“Since then I haven’t really talked about it much at all,” he said. “I can’t even fathom what the New York Fire Department was going through.”
Both Ledin and Bourget spoke of the impact that the death of Stoughton firefighter Victor Melendy in the line of duty in January of 1995 had on their department.
“You don’t really think about [the danger],” Ledin said of when firefighters respond to a scene.
“Everyone is going the other way; you’re going in. This is what it’s about,” he said.
“You never know what you’re going into and if you’re going to come out,” Bourget added.
Quoting Stoughton Fire Captain Bob O’Donnell, Bourget said “life is not a dress rehearsal; you don’t get a second chance.”
“Cherish your family,” Bourget said. “Believe me, I have.”