By Jeff Stein
August 30, 2011
New York (CNN) — When debris rained from the sky in lower Manhattan on September
11, 2001, the first responders to the terrorist attack did not turn away. They
rushed to the World Trade Center buildings while the world around them crumbled.
Yet now, after all the wreckage has been cleared and the rebuilding has begun,
their path is again blocked — not by flying chunks of smoldering rubble, but
by space constraints.
The first responders are not invited to this year’s September 11 memorial ceremony
at ground zero, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office confirmed Monday.
It’s a painful insult for many of the approximately 3,000 men and women who
risked their lives, limbs and lungs on that monumental day, puncturing another
hole in a still searing wound.
In a statement, Bloomberg spokesman Andrew Brent said the commemoration ceremony
is for the victims’ families.
"While we are again focused on accommodating victims’ family members,
given the space constraints, we’re working to find ways to recognize and honor
first responders, and other groups, at different places and times," Brent
But first responder John Feal, founder of an advocacy group for the police
officers, firefighters, civilian volunteers and others who worked at ground
zero, assailed Brent’s response, saying Bloomberg "lives in his own world."
"The best of the best that this country offered 10 years ago are being
neglected and denied their rightful place," Feal said.
Denise Villamia, a first responder who worked at ground zero for several months,
cried over the phone as she recalled her "totally heartbroken" reaction
to the news that she could not attend the memorial service.
"I’m crying because it’s really a big betrayal on the part of the city,
to rob me from my way to pay homage and to find that comfort and healing,"
she said. "I feel that I have been robbed of my way to pay tribute."
In addition to the victims’ families, several politicians, including two presidents,
are expected to be in attendance. Bloomberg’s office would not provide specifics
on the ceremony’s arrangements, but did note that the first responders have
not been invited to the preceding nine memorial services, either.
Yet first responder Morris Faitelewicz, vice president of the Auxiliary Police
Supervisors Benevolent Association, called that explanation "nonsense."
Faitelewicz said that, while there are not usually formal invitations, first
responders have been able to attend all of the previous ceremonies simply by
Not allowing them to attend this year — the 10th anniversary of the terror
attacks — is an especially galling affront, he said.
Additionally, many of the first responders see the decision, first reported
by the New York Daily News, as evidence of the city’s attempt to push to the
background their untreated ailments in the official narrative of recovery and
If the responders attend the memorial service, "the promise ‘we’ll never
forget’ becomes a blatantly obvious lie — a public display that the government
didn’t do right by us," says Bonnie Giebfried, a first responder.
"It’ll bring up the issue that we’re basically walking dead, and that
we’re not being treated."
Despite the passage in December of the $4.2 billion Zagroda Act, which provides
medical treatment and compensation to responders, many first responders told
CNN that the government has failed to address their health needs.
Giebfried has suffered from a failing liver and kidneys, a crushed arm, elbow
and wrist; post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, encroaching lupus
and other diseases. All were caused by the dust, debris and other substances
to which she was exposed on 9/11, she said.
On that day, Giebfried, an emergency medical technician at the time, was twice
entombed in sheared building fragments, and twice escaped.
She and her partner, Jennifer Beckham, transported people to safety and set
up makeshift triage stations. She watched bodies hit the ground and explode
"like a bouncing ball," and suffered three asthma attacks through
a harrowing day of devastation.
Giebfried said her ongoing medical travails have disabused her of the belief
that the United States honors and looks after its service members. Being excluded
from the memorial proceedings was yet another confirmation of this, she said.
"If the Founding Fathers ever saw what had happened to us responders,
they would roll over in their graves," she said. "Leaving first responders
and survivors out of the 10th anniversary is absolutely ludicrous."
Her frustrations were echoed by others.
Father Stephen Petrovich, who drove to ground zero from Huron, Ohio, hours
after the terrorists struck, spent weeks at the site removing and blessing the
remains of shattered bodies. While there, he says, he inhaled carcinogens that
damaged his lungs, and is now in hospice care.
"I don’t think they want us there because of all the problems we’ve had,"
Petrovich said. "It’s like we’ve been dropped off the face of the earth."
In July, the World Trade Center Health Program, which administers funds from
the Zagroda Act, ruled that first responders would not receive compensation
for cancer treatment because there is no established causal link between the
incidence of cancer and exposure to the site on September 11, citing a dearth
of "published scientific and medical findings."
A first responder who also spent months at ground zero, the Rev. Terry Lee
called not being invited back for the ceremony "a rip in the heart."
Lee said the country should honor those who responded at its most dire hour
of need to encourage others to respond to crises.
"I believe attending will help the healing process … if we go; we can
tell our fellow man to get involved, because, ‘hey, America takes care of its
City snubs finest: Victims’ kin, pols invited but ‘no room’ for first responders
at 9/11 anniversary
BY Alison Gendar
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
August 13th 2011
WASHINGTON – The cops, firefighters and rescue workers who toiled at Ground
Zero will not be invited to take part in the 10th anniversary ceremony, a city
official told the Daily News Friday.
First responders will instead be asked back to the site at another day for
a separate commemorative ceremony, city officials said.
Space and security logistics were at the heart of the decision, those involved
Family of the nearly 3,000 killed receive first priority at an event with maximum
President Obama’s appearance will make the day even more of a security concern.
For many first responders, though, the news was a bitter pill.
"To have a separate service on another day has no significance, no meaning,"
said David Jacobs of Queens, who volunteered at the site sifting debris and
who lost a childhood friend, a city firefighter, in the attacks.
"For many of us, we gave a lot at that site," he said.
As many as 91,000 people took part in the initial search and rescue and subsequent
10-month cleanup, according to estimates taken for the city.
In past years, first responders were welcomed to the annual commemoration because
little or no construction had begun at the site and space was not at a premium.
Lawmakers also got word yesterday that their numbers were restricted. Only
representatives from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut got congressional
approval to attend.
House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) Friday decided the government would
pick up the tab for representatives from just those three states.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) had sought to make the event open to lawmakers
from across the country since the devastation was a national tragedy, not just
a regional event.
In contrast, all lawmakers are allowed to attend the memorial in Shankesville,
Pa., where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 eventually crashed.
NYDailyNews.com Poll – Invitation to disagree
Is it an outrage that first responders may not be allowed at the 9/11 anniversary
Answer options and current response percentages (9/4/11):
Yes, they served and sacrificed their health working on the pile. – 82%
No, victims’ families come first and there may not be enough space. – 15%
I’m not sure. – 3%
See also an excellent summary at World911Truth.org:
Obama, Bush, Bloomberg to Bar 9/11 First Responders From Ground Zero
On the 10th Anniversary
Nearly 1,020 first responders have lost their lives in the last 10 years due
to health problems caused by the air quality at Ground Zero.
Many more are still suffering from health problems, while still battling with
the U.S. Government for proper health coverage. The first responders who lost
their lives on 9/11 add to the victims total of that tragic day. Not only should
we honor them for their service and courage — after all, they were the
ones who stood up when we were all in shock — but they should be at the
center stage of the upcoming official ceremony in New York City.
When debris rained from the sky in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, the
first responders to the 9/11 attack did not turn away. They rushed to the World
Trade Center buildings while the world around them crumbled. Yet now, after
all the wreckage has been cleared and the rebuilding has begun, their path is
again blocked by space constraints and politics. In addition to the victims’
families, several politicians, including two presidents, are expected to be
Politicians More Important Than 9/11 First Responders
Politicians have barred these brave men and women from the official ceremony
site this year. The first responders are not invited to this year’s September
11 memorial ceremony at ground zero, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s
office confirmed in August.
This is a painful insult and we should all be outraged.