As readers of this blog know I have been participating in Project 2,996, a tribute to the 2,996 innocent victims of 9/11, where bloggers eulogize each victim. Today, I am changing the rules a bit. I will not be writing a tribute to one of the victims who died that fateful day, but rather, a tribute to the first responders who have died in the last 18 years because of injuries they suffered while at ground zero. Please also view my previous tributes to Firefighter Thomas M. Butler, Capt. Daniel J. Brethel, Pamela Chu, Donald H. Gregory, Steven Harris Russin, Lt. Col. Jerry Don Dickerson Jr., Mary Lenz Wieman, Mark Francis Broderick, Capt. Patrick J, Brown, Hagay Shefi, Alison Marie Wildman, Daniel Thomas Afflitto, and Donna Bernaerts-Kearns, as they deserve to be remembered today too.
On 9/11, thousands of first responders rushed to the Twin Towers. As people were running out, they were running in. Many didn't make it out and are listed as one of the 2,996 innocent victims of that day. However, many of these first responders worked on the pile for the weeks and months to come. From the initial search and rescue efforts to fighting the fire that lasted for months to remove the debris and rubble from the pile, thousands of firefighters, policemen, and EMS worked days and nights in conditions that no one was prepared for. I remember the smell of that smoke. The smell lasted for months. It hung over lower Manhattan like a cloud. The smell even extended across the river and into Brooklyn and parts of New Jersey. Anyone who smelled it, who saw the smoke, knew, instinctively, that the air was not right. Something was wrong with the air that was being breathed by all of us.
In our society, we have a social contract with first responders. You risk your lives for us, and we are supposed to support you. Support you with giving you the best training, the best equipment, the best information. And if you fall in the line fo duty, we are supposed to take care of your family. On 9/11 and the days since, we have broken that contract with our first responders.
First, on 9/11 and the immediate days that followed, our first responders were not even provided proper equipment. I remember news reports that many of those fighting the fire, or searching the pile, or removing debris, did not have proper respiration equipment. They did not have proper equipment to keep them safe! While we may not have been prepared on that day, there was no excuse for that failure to last for several weeks.
Second, the government lied to them and to all of us! The government told us the air was safe. Christy Todd Whitman assured all of us that the air around the WTC was safe and not toxic. That has been proven false. I remember as the New York City Law Department was preparing to move back to our offices one block from the WTC, City and the Feds brought in experts to tell us how safe the air was to breathe. That there was nothing to worry about and there never was. More absolute lies.
Third, when these brave first responders got sick because of the work they did for us and because of the first two failures of our government, it took nearly 18 years for Congress to permanently pass a victims compensation fund so that we can in some way try to fulfill our obligations to them? Congress did it really take more than a decade of hearings, the harsh words of a comedian, and a parade of the dying to finally bring you to your senses? Shame on those like Rand Paul who voted to stop the passage of the Victims Compensation Fund. Such politics should never have been allowed to enter this discussion.
Recently, a memorial to the First Responders who have dies since 9/11 has been installed at the World Trade Center Memorial. The six granite slabs are known as the 9/11 Memorial Glade, are not inscribed with names, like the black granite that surrounds the Memorial pools because the victims that this memorial is paying tribute to is not set in stone. It is estimated that the number of first responders who will die because due to some illness related to 9/11 exposure will exceed the number of first responders who died on that day.
As a society, we must remember our social contract with our first responders. We cannot fail them like this and expect them to protect us when we need them.