16 Years After the 9/11, First Responders Fight for Health Continues

Robert Alexander, an emergency first responder to 9/11 event and a reputed New York city police officer, died of cancer-related issues last month. His death was preceded by the death of his father Raymond Alexander, a firefighter by trade, who was also working as an emergency first responder during the WTC attack. But these two are not the only ones’ who sacrificed their lives for the goods of others. There are literally stories of thousand other first responders who fought off bravely during the terrorist attack but later suffered from severe health and mental disorders.

CDC’s WTC health program, where nearly 7,000 individuals are enrolled, offers monitoring and health care services to emergency responders and volunteers. Around 6,000 of that total figure actually worked during the 9/11 attack. But government and federal authorities only came to their aid once it was established through class-action lawsuits and direct pieces of evidence from autopsies that emergency first responders and volunteers working at the site during rescue and evacuation were exposed to life-threatening carcinogens and other toxic substances.

After continuously haggling for years, the federal authorities eventually passed a law in 2010 named after a deceased NYC detective James Zadroga, who died of respiratory complications in 2006, thought to have incurred by working during and after the 9-11 event. But for the law to be reauthorized in 2015, it took extensive lobbying and great effort from all involved parties. Likewise, at the state level, it took years for affected families to receive their compensations and death benefits.

But it was not all about medical ailments, as two independent studies confirmed that witnessing the attack rendered people psychologically vulnerable, and most of them witnessing the 9-11 suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. “You never recover fully,” as stated by a military officer who worked during the attack at Pentagon, and agreed by million others – their ailments and psychological distress have forced authorities to improve several aspects of emergency responders’ resources.

September 11, 2001, was a black day in the history of US, and at the same time, a constant reminder of the sacrifices of thousands of emergency responders and volunteers. People now know what they actually had to go through to save others, and hence utmost respect is afforded to all those real life heroes from people of not the only US, but from all corners around the globe.