It was a day of bittersweet gratitude Saturday for first responders who worked with labor leaders and elected officials in a 14-year battle to pass the $8.1 billion Zadroga bill, which gives permanent health care coverage to firefighters, police, residents and workers who lived and worked at ground zero on 9/11.
They came together in the shadows of a rebuilt World Trade Center to acknowledge their accomplishment and remember those who died of cancer and respiratory diseases after answering the call on 9/11; or returning to ground zero to live and work after federal officials said the air quality was safe.
“I am very grateful for the firefighters, police officers, our laborers and community leaders — people who were doing the right thing,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “Washington is a very broken place and having you come every week, every month and demand Congress to do the right thing is a victory.”
John Feal of the Feal Good Foundation said the nation’s lawmakers had to face the dying and ill first responders who went to Washington.
“This was our story to tell,” said Feal, still overwhelmed by Friday’s legislative victory. “I woke up crying. It was guerrilla lobbying,” he said. “They told us we were crying wolf when so many people were dying. It should not have taken this long.”
Hundreds have died from more than 70 various cancers and many suffer from respiratory illnesses as a result of being exposed to toxins emitted from the collapsed twin towers.
Feal said those who have not fallen ill “can rest knowing that they have permanent health care.”
Retired FDNY Battalion Chief Steve Redican of Rockland County said he is fortunate not to have fallen ill but came to the victory event “to show support. It’s good that finally we know we don’t have to worry about health care if we should need it.”
Special recognition was given to retired FDNY firefighter Raymond Pfiefer of East Meadow, who was one of many cancer-stricken first responders who traveled to Washington. Pfiefer was in the hospital Saturday.
“Ray came week after week,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), adding that Pfiefer and the others “showed the best of New York. It is a great day for America because we did the right thing.”
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said, “We have redeemed the honor of our country that believes you don’t leave the wounded on the battlefield.”