Jennifer McNamara, widow of 9/11 first responder John McNamara, hugs...

Jennifer McNamara, widow of 9/11 first responder John McNamara, hugs Kenneth Specht of Latter 133 in Coram. Credit: Photo by Howard Schnapp

There wasn't enough room in Rep. Tim Bishop's office to hold the firefighters and police officers who turned up for a news conference on suffering 9/11 rescue workers and their families. So the proceedings were moved to a parking lot in the back of the building, just off Route 112, one of the busiest roadways in Coram.

There came a point when the group stood silently as a lone bagpipe wailed in memory of John McNamara, who was all of 44 when he died of cancer on Sunday.

It could be said that McNamara, a New York City firefighter who lived in Blue Point, waged a fight against the colorectal cancer that hit him hard in 2006, years after his rescue work at Ground Zero. It's probably more accurate to say, however, that during his last days, McNamara waged an even harder fight for something.

He wanted fellow rescue workers, who, like him, were hit with cancer, asthma and a host of other maladies, to gain the care and health-care benefits so many of them need.

One of the men in the parking lot was Stephen Grossman, who lives Bohemia.

He didn't know McNamara. But he read the firefighter's obituary in Wednesday's Newsday and came to show his support for Bishop's efforts to get more benefits and to offer his condolences to McNamara's widow, Jennifer.

Like McNamara, Grossman's son, Robbie, who is 41 and retired on a 9/11 health-related disability, was a first responder.

Grossman was on the golf course and Robbie was enjoying a day off from his job as a New York City police officer when the first plane hit the Twin Towers.

By the time Grossman rushed to a telephone after learning what had happened, his son had been called to work.

And work he did, for days, at the main site, digging and dragging up debris. And when he would make his way back home, for rest, before another day of work, Robbie would dump his grimy, dusty clothes in the garage of his Rocky Point home.

Grossman said Robbie's wife joked about throwing the clothes away. She would wash them instead.

In 2006, Robbie, like McNamara, learned he had cancer, Grossman said, when his son complained of not being able to feel a part of his face while shaving.

What followed was an operation, chemo, radiation. Robbie was in the hospital and then home and then in the hospital again.

Robbie's in the hospital now, said Grossman, who wears one of his son's faded patrol caps.

"We are waiting on a miracle," he said. And then he had to stop. "This is the first time I've cried in public," he said.

"This goes well beyond myself, it goes to the heart of this country," Grossman said. "They [the first responders] shouldn't be treated like that, shouldn't have to wonder whether they can get medicine or whether they can get care, not after what they did."

When the news conference ended, Grossman walked over to McNamara's widow. The two embraced.

He told her he would pray for her family.

She told him she would pray for his son.

No one passing along the busy roadway could see them. Or the other first responders gathered in the corner of the parking lot, near garbage containers and the shuttered, neglected building next door.

There are thousands of families like McNamara's, grieving the deaths of rescuers who fell ill after 9/11.

And thousands of other families like Grossman's, suffering as their loved ones - rescuers, who also fell ill post-9/11 - are fighting for their lives while wondering whether they'll have the care they need.

No one on Route 112 could see McNamara's widow, struggling to keep her composure as the bagpipes played. Or the pain in Grossman's eyes.

And that's not right, either.