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New York, Dec. 2: A number of New York firemen have abandoned their wives after falling for the widows of colleagues killed at the World Trade Centre in September 2001, it was claimed yesterday.
Many of the men were acting as fire department “liaisons” to their comrades’ bereaved families when they fell in love with the widows, the New York Post reported.
“It’s disgusting, heartbreaking, what they’ve done,” one of the abandoned wives, Mary Koenig, told the newspaper. “Not only have these men dishonoured their families, they’ve dishonoured the memories of men who are heroes, who were their brothers.
“It’s the department’s dirty little secret.”
Her husband, Gerry, was assigned as a liaison carer to Madeline Bergin, the widow of his friend and colleague, John Bergin, who was killed on September 11.
After the disaster, he began spending all his time with his friend’s widow.
“My husband rushed to Ground Zero and basically he never came home,” said Koenig. “He was a 9/11 survivor but our family died.”
Although not officially sanctioned, the tradition of caring for the families of dead colleagues has been an unwritten rule in the fire service for at least 100 years.
New York’s firemen, known as the city’s “bravest” even before the terrorist attacks, lost 343 of their colleagues at Ground Zero and have been feted as national heroes ever since. But yesterday’s disclosures about the broken marriages threw new light on the stress suffered by the department following the worst losses in its history.
Another spurned wife, Susan Zazulka, denounced her husband, John, for walking out on her and their four children to be with another September 11 widow. “There are many heroes of 9/11,” she said. “But John is not one of them. He is a coward.”
Sources told the New York Post that there had been up to a dozen cases.
Several of the men were serving as surrogate fathers to the dead firemen’s children.
“That’s what people do — they rescue people,” said Barry Richman, a psychiatrist. “They see these vulnerable women and see that they’ve lost their spouses and they step into that role. It activates all of their own rescue fantasies.”
The New York Fire Department refused to comment on specific cases but a spokesman, David Billig, said “a tremendous amount” had been done to support surviving firefighters and the relatives of those killed on September 11.
“We have been very pro-active in developing solutions and encouraging our employees and their families to seek help,” he said. He said part of the counselling was “the topic of surviving firefighters not neglecting their own families”.
The US warned today of terrorist threats against western interests in the Kenyan capital, advising its citizens to stay away from downtown Nairobi in the next few days.
A main office block in the centre of the capital was evacuated after receiving a bomb threat.