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.