First Responders Remember 9/11

by David Kreisman  |  September 14, 2015

First Responders Remember 9/11 Ray Ouellet, a Connecticut police officer, describes how he and fellow officers spent six days digging in the rubble at the World Trade Center. Credit: Photo by David Kreisman

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ray Ouellet, a Meriden, Connecticut, police officer and AFSCME Local 1016 (Council 4) member, recalls the horror of September 11, 2001 – first with TV images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.

Officer Ouellet and three of his colleagues immediately drove through traffic and chaos into New York City, leaving their car, and hiking two and a half miles with their gear to Ground Zero. Sleeping on church steps after working through the night, Officer Ouellet spent six days digging through the rubble.

“I could not speak for three days, my lungs were so full of debris,” Officer Ouellet recalled, speaking to the AFSCME Public Safety Congress in Albuquerque on Sept. 11. “But we did it because we were called to – the same reason you do the work you do as police, fire, corrections or EMS. We did it because deep inside we have the desire to serve our communities, to be helpers, to make things better.”

At a ceremony here commemorating the tragedy, Pres. Lee Saunders recalled how AFSCME members in New York City came together that day.

“The toll was especially steep for members of DC 37 Locals 2507 and 3621,” said President Saunders, who was working out of the DC 37 office that day. “We were the 911 operators. We were the EMS officers, the EMTs and paramedics. We were the chaplains. The construction design managers, engineers, forensics teams and fire inspectors. We stood side by side with police officers and firefighters.

“We combed the rubble for survivors, delivered lunches and supplies. We came from all corners of the nation to help. And when it was clear there were no more survivors, we did recovery work, all the while exposed to a dangerous mix of toxins that are sickening and killing people to this day,” said President Saunders.

He urged the hundreds of Public Safety Congress convention attendees to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is set to expire in October unless Congress acts. Delegates immediately turned to their phones and sent the messages.

“AFSCME members have always understood the responsibilities we have to our communities,” Saunders said. “We fulfill them with pride and care. But on 9/11, we truly rose to the occasion – just as we do each time disaster strikes.”

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