Retired Willimantic firefighter continues to raise money to help families of the victims of 9/11 two decades later

9/11 Never Forget

September 11 Timeline

WILLIMANTIC, Conn. (WTNH) – A retired firefighter in Willimantic has spent the last two decades making sure the 9/11 first responders are being taken care of. His mission started as soon as the towers fell, and it hasn’t stopped.

South Windham’s Jim Preston wrote Heavens Fire Department days after September 11 and delivered it to every firehouse in Manhattan and Brooklyn, but his work didn’t stop there.

“We left a funeral one day and my wife said to me, ‘I know you still feel guilty because you didn’t work at the pile, but I’m so glad you didn’t because I would be sick now too,’” Preston said.

“Yup, he does a lot of good things. He’s a good advocator, he advocates for a lot of different things, but the 9/11 family is our family,” said Cheryl Preston, Jim’s wife.

A retired firefighter, he felt compelled to respond and he has for 20 years.

A stack of cards from funeral services is kept in the pocket of his dress uniform. Some were killed that horrible day, others many years later like Ray Pfeifer. He slept in his fire truck for a week after the attacks.

“He died from cancer he got working at the Trade Center,” Jim said.  

Jim’s friend John MacNamara also died from cancer. Jim wrote on a piece of paper to MacNamara’s wife when he was in the hospital.

“And it became my motto. Whatever it takes,” Jim said.

Whatever it takes to make sure 9/11 families are taken care of. He’s active with the Feale Good Foundation started by John Feale.

“He had a large beam slide onto his foot, and he lost half of his foot during the operation there, and when he was home he thought, ‘I got to help people,’” Jim said.

So, in their little pastry shop, A Cupcake for Later in Willimantic, they raise money to help the families.

“Making sure that their memory, their legacy lives on forever. That’s why my part is to spend, listen to them, talk and try to help, you know? Make it a little better if I can, you know,” Jim said.

They’ve been listening for two decades.

“When it comes down to it, 9/11 is never going to end. It’s always going to be there for the people it affected and all we can do is keep talking about it so that people don’t forget them,” Jim said.

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