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