Congress is doing right by Ground Zero rescue workers
By Steve Cassidy December 20, 2015 8:49 p.m.
In a bipartisan spirit on a crucial issue, Congress finally came together to do the right thing for a special group of Americans: the first responders who risked their lives on 9/11.
By agreeing Friday to reauthorize the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health Compensation Act, which provides health care for those sick and dying from exposure to the toxins in lower Manhattan, our national political leaders have given first responders long-deserved peace of mind.
Let’s remember how we got here: The city Fire Department was the only agency that had pre-9/11 medical information on its employees. This enabled FDNY doctors to determine that firefighters lost, on average, 12 years’ lung capacity as a direct result of their exposure at Ground Zero.
That medical evidence — published in the New England Journal of Medicine — was the key justification in convincing Congress to pass the initial Zadroga law five years ago.
Three hundred forty-three New York City firefighters died on 9/11, but over 120 have since died of illnesses related to toxic exposures. More are dying every week. Over 1,000 are now seriously ill and cancers are up over 30 percent, appearing sooner than medical experts thought possible.
Firefighters, many of them sick and dying, spent days, weeks and months meeting and convincing congressional leaders from both parties of Zadroga’s importance. Their efforts were invaluable in getting Congress to do the right thing.
They didn’t ask for a handout. Instead, they asked Congress to fulfill its responsibility to those who risked it all to save 25,000 people before the towers collapsed.
The Zadroga extension does more than just recognize the sacrifices of firefighters and first responders here in New York. It signals to all Americans that Congress understands its responsibility to those who will risk their lives, should another catastrophic terrorist attack take place.
Recent attacks in San Bernardino and Paris remind us that the terrorist threat to America is as grave as ever. And, of course, New York City remains the No. 1 terrorist target in the world.
Firefighters are being asked to do more than ever before, including increased training to respond to the ever-evolving terrorist threat. Following 9/11, the firefighters didn’t demand assurances that they and their families would be taken care of in the future before they put on their equipment and bravely toiled on the pile of smoking debris. They did what was needed for a grateful and grieving nation, and now Congress has finally done its job for them.
On behalf of our all New York City firefighters, I offer sincere thanks to New York’s congressional delegation; both Democratic and Republican leaders in the House and Senate; the International
Association of Fire Fighters and firefighters from across our nation; and the very public voice and advocacy of Jon Stewart, who tirelessly beat the drum on behalf of sick and dying first responders.
Steve Cassidy is president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the largest firefighters union local in the world.