By Sarah Dorsey The Chief-Leader
There’s a memorial for the September 11 attacks. What is missing is a monument dedicated specifically to the first responders and others sickened by World Trade Center toxins.
A gallery of first responders, elected and union officials, and family members of the fallen May 2 announced a committee to change that, at a press conference at Silverstein Family Park, about a block from where the towers stood. Leaders of the city’s largest and most-powerful public-sector unions make up many of the panel’s proposed members.
‘Close to Ground Zero’
Speakers said they hoped to create a monument “as close to Ground Zero as possible,” possibly on that very space at West Broadway and Vesey St., which is currently owned by the Silverstein development company. The exact location, cost and design remain to be decided, however, said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. She is set to co-chair the committee along with New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.
Ms. Brewer and others said the monument would serve as a reminder that the terrorist attacks continue to affect thousands of New Yorkers, even as advocates press behind the scenes for the reauthorization of the Federal Zadroga Act, which ensures them health care and economic benefits, and expires in 2016.
“9/11 happened a while ago. And it begins to fade from memory,” Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Alexander Hagan said. He recalled taking a break from searching for survivors early on the morning of September 12, 2001 and sitting on a couch that had been placed near The Pile.
Spotlights had been set up nearby, and he looked up to see some kind of dust, illuminated by the light, drifting down from above. It looked like a snowstorm. He asked a colleague named John Duffy what it was.
“I’ll tell you what it is, Captain,” he answered. “It’s cancer.”
“And his words proved to be prophetic,” Mr. Hagan continued. He called forward Valerie Roberts, who lost her husband, Fire Lieut. Thomas Roberts, in the attacks [sic – he died of site-related illness in 2009], and as he continued speaking, his voice quavered and he had to pause.
The monument, the UFOA leader said, would be a symbol to our children and grandchildren “that we in our society do not leave our dead behind.”
Both New York Senators and U.S. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, who fought for the Zadroga Act, are slated to serve on the committee, along with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and Council Member Margaret Chin, who lives in and represents lower Manhattan.
Along with Mr. Hagan, the leaders of several other public-sector unions plan to sit on the committee, including those of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the Patrolmen’s and Sergeants’ Benevolent Associations, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and District Council 37. The presidents of the New York Ironworkers District Council and the city Building & Construction Trades Council will join them, along with AFL-CIO New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez and New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech.
77 Delayed Casualties
Representative Maloney noted that since September 11, when 343 firefighters and EMS personnel were killed, another 77 retired and active FDNY members have died of related illness. Five hundred more are sick and are receiving Zadroga benefits.
“This committee was not formed to create just a monument,” said John Feal, a former construction worker who was injured on 9/11 [sic – he was hurt a day or days later] and later formed the Feal Good Foundation to advocate for first responders. “It was formed to tell history.”
Ms. Roberts, in a later interview, said she came down from her home in a northern suburb as soon as she heard about the conference.
“My goal is to make sure that he is never forgotten,” she said of her husband.
He died in 2009 of esophageal cancer at age 58, just nine months after his diagnosis.
‘A Tough Year’
“2009 was a tough year for us,” she added. She recalls it as the year that she and other FDNY families began to realize what a toll this would take on their loved ones’ health.“We lost 10 friends within six months” of 9/11-related illnesses, she added; her husband’s oncologist told her that first responder’s cancers tended to be “very accelerated.”
“You form a very tight circle of people who have lost loved ones of 9/11 illness,” she said.