Air Today . . . Gone Tomorrow Article|
the Health of Firefighters
By Terence J. Kivlan, Staten Island Advance, September 25, 2002
WASHINGTON -- Estimating that 700 firefighters may be permanently disabled, Fire
Department medical chief Dr. Kerry Kelly yesterday urged approval of federal funding for
long-term health tracking of firefighters suffering from Sept. 11-related illnesses.
"What we are looking to do is monitor these people beyond retirement on the premise
that they have been in a war," said Dr. Kelly, testifying before the Senate Committee
on the Environment and Public Works.
An estimated 500 firefighters, many of whom worked in the recovery and clean-up effort at
Ground Zero, suffer from disabling respiratory diseases. The careers of another 100 to 200
may have been ended by severe emotional and psychological trauma, she told senators.
"Since the attack our members have ... struggled with the emotional consequences of
losing colleagues, near-death experiences and digging through tons of rubble to find those
who perished," Dr. Kelly said. "The emotional toll has been great."
The Grymes Hill resident
later said she didn't know how many Staten Island firefighters were among the group she
described. "I don't have figures like that," she said.
Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton, a member of the committee, is sponsoring legislation
allocating $90 million for medical monitoring programs around the country. About $25
million would be earmarked for the city. At the hearing, Mrs. Clinton sparred briefly on
the tracking issue with Joe Allbaugh, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
who reiterated the Bush administration position that $9 million was already available to
do medical checks on Ground Zero workers.
"I don't know of any first responder in New York City who has not received the
medical care ... and tests they have asked for," Allbaugh said.
But Mrs. Clinton countered that more funding was needed to conduct follow-up tests and
provide future treatment. "We are losing literally hundreds of our firefighters for
health reasons, as well as for stress," she said.
On Sept. 11, over 240 firefighters and emergency technicians sought needed medical
attention in emergency rooms, and more than 28 remain hospitalized with life-threatening
inhalation and trauma-related injuries. After they collapsed, "the pulverized towers
sent up a caustic cloud of black smoke and choking debris showering down on the surviving
workers, blanketing our members," Dr. Kelly testified. "Every breath was made
difficult as the air became thickened with particulate matter."
As the rescue effort progressed at Ground Zero, the incidence of firefighters going on
medical leave stabilized and declined. It then began growing rapidly again as more workers
began suffering from severe respiratory problems, Dr. Kelly said. In the months after
Sept. 11, almost 1,900 firefighters had to take sick leave for respiratory symptoms. Over
332 were out for a month or longer, and more than half have yet to return to their duties,
EVALUATED FOR GRIEF
In addition, over 3,000
firefighters have been evaluated for stress, grief and bereavement as well as
"post-traumatic symptoms, and 250 remain on leave with these problems," she
added. And the FDNY faces added depletion of veteran personnel because of impending
retirements. "One year after the attack, the Fire Department of New York continues to
rebuild and recover, forever changed by the events of Sept. 11," Dr. Kelly said.
"It has been a difficult year."
Also testifying was Christine Whitman, administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA), who defended her agency's response to Sept. 11. The EPA activated its New
York emergency response team as soon as the first hijacked plane hit, she said.
"While there is always room for improvement, the people of my agency can be proud of
the work they put in," Ms. Whitman said. Terence Kivlan is the Washington Bureau
reporter for the Staten Island Advance. He may be reached at Terence.Kivlan@newhouse.com.
FAIR USE NOTICE
This article contains copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been
specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material
available in my efforts to advance understanding of democracy, economic,
environmental, human rights, political, scientific, and social justice issues,
among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted
material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section
107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research
and educational purposes.
Take me back to learn more