Comedian Jon Stewart, who lobbied Congress to extend health benefits for 9/11 responders, will receive a humanitarian award along with three other honorees Friday at the Nassau County Firefighters Museum in Garden City.
The museum is recognizing Stewart and Fealgood Foundation founder John Feal, who was a worker at Ground Zero, with humanitarian awards for advocating for health benefits included in the James Zadroga Act on behalf of 9/11 responders.
Former FDNY firefighter and ex-East Meadow Fire Capt. Ray Pfeifer, a 9/11 firefighter with Stage 4 cancer, will receive the museum’s Francis X. Pendl award.
Entrepreneur Stew Leonard Jr. will receive the Firefighters Leadership Award for supporting children’s water safety and raising $3 million in the past 25 years for swim lessons and lifeguard training through his charity.
Stewart, Pfeifer and Feal lobbied last year for the passage of a law covering 75 years of first responder health benefits and five years of compensation for 9/11 related illnesses.
“These are people who are there because they form a foundational aspect of civil society,” Stewart said in an interview with Newsday. “We’re setting an example for the rest of us when the world is falling apart, and the idea that we can’t take care of them when they need something, felt so fundamentally wrong in so many ways it was mind boggling.”
Stewart first raised the issue as host of “The Daily Show” in 2010, when the Zadroga health benefits bill was being filibustered in Congress. He returned to Congress last year to argue for the benefits to be extended for the lifetime of 9/11 first responders.
“Selfishly, I think if you continue to demonstrate to people that you can’t take care of your first responders you may not have them there when you need them in the same way you want them to be,” Stewart said.
Feal, whose leg was crushed by 8,000 pounds of steel on 9/11, said he began working with Stewart and firefighters once he experienced having benefits denied. He has raised more than $4 million for charities.
He said Friday night’s ceremony would be recognition for the foundation’s work with Stewart and Pfeifer and the 190,000 signatures they presented Congress in favor of health benefits.
“This gives us validity to say we were here,” Feal said. “It was selfish of me to ask these men to leave their house when they were sick or dying, but it was the only way to get these bills passed.”
Advocates are still seeking to have compensation funded through Congress past 2021 for illnesses before September 2005 and additional cancers and illnesses that are not included or have not been diagnosed.
Stewart now spends his time with his family and as an advocate and supporter of firefighter and veterans’ affairs.
“This is an ongoing battle for the men and women with these illnesses and more are coming,” he said. “We don’t know what the effects of freebasing this toxic mix of chemicals on the pile is going to be 20 years from now.”