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NYC firefighters study finds depression high, drinking average after WTC collapse
By Michael Weissenstein, NY Newsday, April 19, 2004

NEW YORK -- Firefighters who worked at ground zero are experiencing high rates of depression, anxiety and stress, according to a new study.

The study also found drinking rates in the Fire Department of New York consistent with the national average.

The survey of 2,000 firefighters found that 62 percent of those who worked at ground zero in the first month after the World Trade Center collapse still experience at least occasional bouts of depression, said Samuel Bacharach, director of the Smithers Institute at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, which conducted the study.

Depression was half as common among firefighters who had not worked at ground zero, Bacharach, who also is a professor at the school, said Monday.

The study found that 84 percent of those who had worked at ground zero in the first month were still reporting occasional stress, compared with 61 percent of those who were not at ground zero.

"These guys are under strain," Bacharach said. "Depression is up, anxiety figures are up. All the basic indicators are really up."

Forty-nine percent of ground zero firefighters and fire officers reported episodes of anxiety. Anxiety was reported by 32 percent of firefighters who did not participate in first-month recovery efforts.

Bacharach called the 40-page survey the most extensive study of World Trade Center emergency responders. Completed by firefighters last summer and fall, its findings were to be released by the Smithers Institute on Tuesday.

The report, "On the Frontline The Work of First Responders in a Post- 9/11 World," classed 28 percent of respondents as at risk for moderate or serious drinking problems. Bacharach said that number was in line with findings about workplace drinking nationwide.

"You can't just pull out firefighters and say it's their issue," he said. "It's an issue across the American workplace."

At least three firefighters have been arrested this month on suspicion of driving drunk, prompting fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta to announce that firefighters convicted of drunken driving would be required to submit to random alcohol testing.

Scoppetta has expressed increased concern about drinking and drug use in department ranks since a drunken New Year's Eve brawl in a Staten Island firehouse that left one firefighter critically injured.

In the weeks following the brawl, a surprise raid on an East Harlem firehouse found beer and liquor in a locker and cocaine in two firefighters' systems, and a captain and a lieutenant were caught drinking beer in uniform in a karaoke bar they were supposed to be inspecting.

The presidents of the city's firefighters and fire officers' unions declined to comment on the Smithers Institute report, saying they had not read it.

FDNY officials will study the findings and work with the unions to implement any necessary changes in counseling, substance abuse treatment and other programs, spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

"We're going to work with them on the issues that are raised in the study," Gribbon said.

The report found admirable levels of teamwork, openness and self-criticism among firefighters and officers in the city's firehouses, Bacharach said. But the rank-and-file reported being alienated from and unheeded by decision-makers at the upper levels of the 11,000-member department, he said.



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