by Lou Angeli
New York, NY (September 6, 2007) -- On the eve of the 6th anniversary of the attacks on America, the Brooklyn Borough Hall will play host to a Congressional Sub-Committee which is scheduled to listen to statements regarding the health of 9/11 responders who reside outside of New York City and State. For those of you who served at Ground Zero, you are well aware that a huge percentage of emergency service volunteers at Ground Zero hailed from other locales.
Last week a plea was issued by the Committee on Government Oversight and Reform -- Urgent: Out Of State 9/11 Responders Needed To Testify. The intent was to listen to statements from non New York responders to determine how to identify out of state responders, and convince them to enroll in the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program.
But - wait. Hold the applause.
Today, the committee agenda was altered. The once urgent plea for out of staters was revoked so that constituents of committee members could be heard. I'd buy into that change, had the hearing been held in DC, before Congressmen representing many other of states. But the hearing in Brooklyn will be attended primarily by New York delegation members, which means that there will be more self-serving New York testimony -- and no voice for Ground Zero's Silent Heroes.
Who are the men and women who responded from outside New York City to serve at Ground Zero? And where are they now?
In its report on the World Trade Center attacks, The Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware noted that volunteer responders, both trained and untrained, were vital to the rescue effort in New York City, especially during the first 72 hours. Excluding FEMA, nearly every agency which has studied the Trade Center disaster makes note of the importance of an organized volunteer response.
The numbers of volunteer workers who responded to Lower Manhattan during the first days following the attacks has been estimated at 40,000, and there are some reports that suggest numbers as high as 70,000.
During the early stages of rescue and recovery, the volunteers who made it to Ground Zero did so on their own. Many were trained emergency professionals, who were never summoned, but rather “self responded” to the site. Because of their expertise, they immediately began to work assisting FDNY search teams. Others “walk-ins” included steel workers, operating engineers, chiropractors, massage therapists, clergy, college students, and housewives.
The vast majority of the men and women who served at Ground Zero were never asked to respond – they did so because of their desire to help. It's what Americans do well -- helping one another during troubled times.
They came from every state and from Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Israel and Italy. Unfortunately, we may never know the names of most of 9/11’s out of state responders, especially those skilled in emergency response – the firefighters, law enforcement officers, paramedics, military and nurses, who served at Ground Zero...then disappeared.
Finding them will be like “finding the needle in a haystack” largely due to FEMA’s ongoing directive to restrict volunteer “self-response” during major disasters. (1) It is a concept that is shared and enforced by many local emergency agencies. In many jurisdictions, especially those that operate as career agencies, such a violation could result in disciplinary action, or even worse -- dismissal.
Following the events of September 11, 2001, FEMA and the US Fire Administration distributed a questionnaire in an attempt to gather statistics regarding the response to the World Trade Center disaster. Many of those who could have answered the questionnaire did not, fearing reprisal.
To make matters worse, published newspaper stories and discussion on “non official” web forums suggested that individuals who had taken it upon themselves to respond, had breeched a crime scene and could possibly face local, state and Federal criminal charges. Out of state responders went off the radar.
According to the 2004 Mount Sinai Study it is estimated that some 70% of all 9/11 responders suffer from illnesses related to the rescue and recovery effort. Like their colleagues in New York City and State, hundreds, if not thousands of out of state first responders are ill as well. After all, they worked under the same horrendous conditions and ingested the same hazardous materials as local emergency personnel. Are they being cared for properly – or are they just biding time?
In a few short years, the Medical Monitoring Program has created an extremely detailed database, which allows healthcare professionals to carefully follow treatment and progress of thousands of World Trade Center responders who reside in New York. Reaching out to responders in other states, who served an extremely important role at Ground Zero, is a very important step.
How to effectuate such a response is determined by two very important criteria: A guarantee to those who enroll that their information will remain confidential. And allowing the screeners to take to the streets to enroll these silent responders in their own hometowns.
Oh -- and there's one more critically important criteria. Having Congressional Committees stick to their published agenda -- not placate their colleagues' constiuents.
(1) FEMA Restricts Volunteers at Disasters