TUESDAY, September 11, 2001 was shaping up to be a good day for Brian Rousseau. The New York fire fighter was off duty and looking forward to a relaxing time.

But within hours he was leading the first search and rescue team into the wreckage of the World Trade Centre, devastated by terrorist attacks.

Mr Rousseau - a firefighter for 27 years and technical rescue co-ordinator for the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control - headed the first specialist team to arrive at Ground Zero and stayed there for 16 days.

In the first 48 hours they carried out 1,000 search missions and found 100 victims on their first shift.

And he shared his experiences with pupils at Monmouth Comprehensive and members of the public in two talks in Monmouth organised by the local Rotary Club on Thursday night.

Mr Rousseau, who manages over 2,000 people and is responsible for all specialised training for the fire department, said: "It was a mess, just horrific, there was debris and dust everywhere.

"We worked a 50 hour shift, after 18 hours we slept for three in a shelter and worked for the next 12, and so on.

"We were so exhausted, men slept anywhere they could, even on the shelves of our trailer."

He recalled the site resembled "a horror movie" with dust everywhere, adding: "The first few days were eerie. We did not find computers or desks, just steel and lots of paper." Mr Rousseau lost seven close friends who went to help civilians - and believes they are the true heroes.

"I'm not a hero." he said.

"Those firefighters who refused to leave their civilians are the true heroes and those we should have the most respect for."

For two days Mr Rousseau believed a close friend was killed in the collapse - then he was rescued.

He said: "I looked up and saw he was standing there, I cried and hugged more men in 16 days than in my entire life."

Mr Rousseau is speaking to groups around Britain, including other fire fighters, during his visit. He said: "If by just by speaking, I can create a better awareness about it then it is worth it." " I have never been back to Ground Zero, and don't think I will. But I would like the state to leave the light shafts as a memorial to those who died."