For Anthony Fischetti and his family, it was a chance to get together with people who know firsthand what he has been through.
Fischetti, his wife, Alejandra, son, Anthony Jr., 10, and daughter, Hana, 5, were among the 400 who showed up by early afternoon Sunday at Heckscher State Park in East Islip for the first World Trade Center responder picnic.
"They have become like family," Fischetti, of Bay Shore, said. He gestured to his fellow picnickers, who were chowing down on free hot dogs and hamburgers as they listened to live country and western music by the Roadhouse Band and an a cappella group called the Stardusts. "They really supported us when we needed them."
Fischetti, a carpenter, volunteered for five days at Ground Zero as part of a search and rescue team. Although New York City has never admitted a link between working at Ground Zero and medical ailments, he said he now suffers from respiratory and stomach ailments as well as depression, which he attributes to his work on the pile. He said he had recently lost 45 pounds from stress.
"It's important for people to commune with one another, with their brethren. Lots of times people don't realize they're not alone," said Dr. Benjamin Luft, director of the Long World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program. The program, a main sponsor of the picnic, follows about 5,000 first responders from Long Island.
John Feal, president of the first responders' advocacy group FealGood Foundation, the other major co-host of the picnic, agreed. "We have all suffered but we can all enjoy one day together," he said.
Nevertheless, politics lurked not far in the background. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) told the crowd he would work to pass the $4.7-billion Zadroga bill, named after the late NYPD Det. James Zadroga, to reopen the victims' compensation fund. The bill was voted down by the House, 255-159, in late July.
"I am happy to be here but I'll be even better when Congress passes the Zadroga bill," he said.