Retired NYPD Det. Rafael Orozco worked for years to support two causes close to his heart — continuance of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and an account for posterity of his experience at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and for months afterward.
Last week, Christmas came early for the 58-year-old Central Islip resident.
Congress reauthorized the Zadroga Act, which monitors and provides care for responders and survivors.
And Orozco’s recorded story of his actions, along with about 200 other first responders’ accounts, was sent via overnight express delivery to the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C. They now are part of the center’s permanent collection.
“For both of them to come within days of each other, I can’t have a better Christmas,” Orozco said. “And there is nothing that will top this Christmas for me. This is validation and vindication. And it says our story matters and we matter and we will be there forever.”
The firsthand accounts, known as the “Remembering 9/11 Oral History Project,” were established by Dr. Benjamin Luft, professor of medicine at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and director of the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program.
Luft, after hearing many moving stories from patients who were first responders at Ground Zero, believed the experiences they recounted should be part of the nation’s history.
“These stories are very powerful in that not only did they talk about the events of that day, but they talked about what motivated them and what gave them the courage and the strength to survive and to overcome the odds of what they were seeing,” Luft said.
In 2009, he and his colleagues began to record some of their patients’ stories as oral histories.
Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Peter King (R-Seaford), supporters of the center, were instrumental in having the oral histories incorporated into the Library of Congress. At about the same time, the project was featured on “60 Minutes” and was the subject of a book and a documentary on PBS on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack, Luft said.
By 2011, the Library of Congress formally expressed interest in serving as the repository for the collected oral histories and other documentation created by the project, which included stories from police officers, firefighters, paramedics, construction workers and others who worked at Ground Zero.
“For those who sacrificed their lives but survived that tragic day, their memories and stories will forever be preserved as a part of our nation’s history,” Israel said in a statement.
The collection includes video of some 200 oral histories — each 60 to 90 minutes long — and more than 1,000 digital photographs, manuscript materials, logbooks and indexes involving the personnel who responded to the terrorist attack on the trade center and those who did rescue and recovery work on the debris pile over subsequent months.
The donation is only a portion of what the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program has collected, and future installments of oral histories and other memorabilia are expected. The federally funded program, which also has clinics in Manhattan, Queens and Piscataway, New Jersey, provides free health monitoring and treatment for WTC rescue, recovery and cleanup workers.
The American Folklife Center and its predecessor, the Archive of Folk Culture, have collected public oral histories and other documentation following major events in the nation’s history, such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
According to the center, the recordings are being processed by digital archivists and will be available to the public this spring. They may be available online at a future date.
“In these interviews, the responders describe the details of their disaster work, the atmosphere at their worksite, and the personal impacts of this disaster,” Elizabeth Peterson, director of the American Folklife Center, said in a statement.
Luft said the project gives responders such as Orozco the opportunity to have ownership of their own narrative. Some, he said, shared their stories for the first time.
Orozco, a detective in community affairs in the Brooklyn North Precinct, searched the site for survivors on Sept. 11 and was assigned to keep the area secure for months after the attacks.
“I didn’t read about it. I didn’t hear it. I lived it,” Orozco said. “People will know this is what really happened. This is who responded, and this is how they were affected by it.”