By Michael Aron
Chief Political Correspondent
Politicians joined police and fire unions today at the Elizabeth fire department to call on Congress to re-authorize the Zadroga Act. The the 2011 law entitles 9/11 first responders to compensation and added health coverage if they’ve developed health problems directly from their exposure to dust and debris. The law expired on Sept. 30.
“Our 9/11 responders stood on the line of fire. They stood in the line of duty. They stood in the line of risk, and they should not have to stand in line waiting for the Congress to cast a vote for re-authorization, a permanent re-authorization of the Zadroga bill,” said Senator Bob Menendez.
James Zadroga was a New York police officer from North Arlington, New Jersey. He died in 2006, and was the first person to die of 9/11-related illness.
Between 4,000 and 5,000 New Jerseyans get monitored and treated at a Rutgers clinic in Piscatway under the program.
“They responded, they stood strong, they put themselves in harm’s way and now a bunch of politicians in Washington are not standing up and doing the right thing by them. We should not have to be here. It is a shame upon our nation,” Senator Cory Booker said.
Gene Dannenfelser was diagnosed with lung cancer last year. He spent 13 days at Ground Zero and Fresh Kills landfill.
“After having my left lung removed, they did a biopsy of my right lung and I’m still walking around with ground glass in my right lung,” Dannenfelser said.
Lathey Wirkus showed us a 9/11 memorial inside the fire house. He led a team into the city on 9/11 and now has esophageal problems.
“The condition I have, if not treated and stayed on top of, turns to cancer, so if that money is not available for my constant monitoring and treatment there’s pretty much the same outlook for all of the responders that went there—the outlook is not good,” Wirkus said.
Federal funding for the clinics that treat 9/11 responders has come to a halt. The compensation fund expires next year.
“Please, renew the Zadroga Act. Renew it permanently. Not have a sunset. Not have an expiration date. This is something that needs to be funded today and well into the future,” said Ed Donnelly, President of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.
The politicians in attendance were all Democrats.
“You know, let’s be honest. It’s those damn Republicans. We need them to support us,” said Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage.
“We had a hearing on it. The Speaker last week that he wants to do this by the end of the year. He’s a Republican. And finally we had a meeting with the Republican members of the committee with the chairman last Thursday or Friday and he said he would support a permanent re-authorization. It’s just a question now of figuring out what they pay-for is going to be,” said Congressman Frank Pallone.
To the people who rallied here today to re-authorize the Zadroga Act, the principle is simple. First responders didn’t say no to us on 9/11, so we shouldn’t say no to them now.