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Washington County's first responders recall tragic day

2011-07-14T17:35:00Z 2011-07-18T08:58:54Z Washington County's first responders recall tragic dayBy Don Lehman--dlehman@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star

To say Wednesday was a tough day for the first responders of southern Washington County is an understatement.

In a matter of eight hours, police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians had to deal with two scenes where six people died and eight others were injured.

The bodies of a White Creek couple and their teenage son were found in their burned home early Wednesday morning. And shortly after noon, a home on Route 29 in Salem exploded, killing three people and injuring eight who were inside. Two of those injured people have since succumbed to their injuries.

Bruce Mason, the county's EMS coordinator, said it was the worst day many first responders in the county recalled experiencing since they responded to New York City after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"It was probably one of the worst things I've seen in all my years in EMS," said Mason, who has been in EMS for 38 years and went to New York City in 2001, referring to the Salem explosion scene.

Members of the Salem Rescue Squad, the primary squad to respond to the Route 29 explosion, have asked for a critical incident stress debriefing that was to be held Thursday night, Mason said.

Many were obviously distraught at the scene as the fatalities accumulated and the extent of injuries became known.

Mason said there's no way first responders can avoid exposing themselves to horrific situations.

"There's not much you can do when that kind of call comes in," he said.

Cambridge-Greenwich Police Patrolman Jason Tefft was the closest police officer to the explosion scene and appeared to be the lone police officer there for more than 20 minutes.

He diffused near fisticuffs between a survivor of the blast and the building's owners.

Cambridge-Greenwich Police Chief George Bell said Tefft went to the scene because it was initially reported to be in the town of Greenwich.

He praised Tefft for his actions amid the chaos and said Tefft seemed to be doing OK Thursday.

"He said, ‘I've never been overseas (in a war zone), but I'd have to imagine that is what it was like,' " he said.

County Fire Coordinator Ray Rathbun did not return a phone call for comment.

It was an unprecedented day for the county's emergency services dispatchers, who coordinated first responder response, ambulance trips to multiple hospitals and three rescue helicopter flights in the Salem case alone.

Steve Griffin, the county's deputy public safety coordinator, said the county's emergency services dispatchers were trying to catch their breath and were still helping coordinate the response to the White Creek fire and manhunt when the call for the Salem blast came in.

As the extent of the explosion became clear, squads from around the county were covering for each other as victims were attended to.

"The first one was bad enough. When the second call came in, I said to myself, ‘You've got to be kidding me,'" Griffin said.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. SGF Parent
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    SGF Parent - July 15, 2011 12:24 pm
    Thank you first responders and police for all your heroic measures everyday you are called to duty.
  2. Bill In Glens Falls
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    Bill In Glens Falls - July 14, 2011 7:06 pm
    Am I to read this that even with the sheriff's substation a mile or so away and a State Police barracks maybe four miles away, he was the only police officer there for 20 minutes?

    Was everyone else at the other scene?
  3. srhodes
    Report Abuse
    srhodes - July 14, 2011 6:59 pm
    I would like to say Thank You to all of the responders on and off site. You are truly the everyday heroes that give of yourself to protect and care for those of us that cannot. My condolences to the families of these tragedies. My heart goes out to all of you that are touched in some way by these tragedies. There is nothing that can take your pain away but know that you are not hurting alone.
  4. justmy2cents4U
    Report Abuse
    justmy2cents4U - July 14, 2011 6:25 pm
    To the responders...you have our deepest gratitude.
  5. saddie
    Report Abuse
    saddie - July 14, 2011 6:10 pm
    The services that you all did in these areas falls into the category of HERO. I am proud to live in a community that has such strong and capable VOLUNTARY emergency crews. You all deserve our gratitude and praise! (I still remember alot of the faces from the local parade) ...you are doing a wonderful job. THANK YOU very much!!!!

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