New York City firefighters exit the walkway leading down into ground zero after finishing a shift on the cleanup and recovery effort at the disaster site of the World Trade Center March 7, 2002 in New York City.
In the scriptures are the words: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
The words have special resonance when you consider the results of a study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
This study found that of 11,000 firefighters who were at ground zero in the two weeks after 9/11, when the dust cloud was thickest, most are not improving. Their lungs were heavily damaged by pulverized masonry and glass from the World Trade Cemter attacks.And they have not recovered.
The fire fighters studied went to the scene of the disaster ready to sacrifice their lives----that’s part of the job. And this prestigious study shows that this is exactly what will happen to many in the years to come, from the respiratory ailments they have suffered . Indeed, Dr. David Prezant, the Fire Department’s chief medical officer and lead author of the study, says that, at this one event, the fire fighters suffered a loss of lung function equivalent to aging 12 years.
As for emergency medical technicians, of the nearly 2,000 considered in this study, their results are even worse. Among non-smokers, 22 percent of the EMTs scored below normal in a breathing test.
Dr. Prezant told me the study was significant on three counts: because there were pre-9/11 records of the lung functions of the people under scrutiny; second, the doctors and scientists were able to follow the group through the disaster and its aftermath; third, the data assembled were complete, showing an approximately 10 percent decline in lung function for the group.
For the last three years a bill authored by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney has languished in Washington. The bill would provide funds for future studies and treatment of 9/11 workers.
I asked Captain Alexander Hagan of the Fire Officers Association how his members felt about the new study. He recalls that, in the aftermath of 9/11, "the words on everyone’s lips were: ‘Never forget.’ Now, unfortunately, some people may say: "Never forget, what?"
"People are still suffering. I’m glad that many people are still listening, including the New York delegation to Congress and many of their colleagues from other states. "We’re very hopeful; that the legislation will pass. A ton of people have suffered and many will continue to need help."
To forget the rescue workers would be to compound the crime committed against us on 9/11. The researchers for the new scientific study by the NYFD and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine deserve congratulations for distinguished work in remembering and helping these heroes of New York.