Watch CBS News

First Responders Sickened By Toxins At Ground Zero After 9/11 Testify Before Congress

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- First responders who were seriously hurt in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks appeared before a congressional committee in Washington on Thursday.

Members of the FDNY and NYPD -- many of them sick with various cancers -- asked lawmakers to extend the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.

WEB EXTRA: More Info On Registering For 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

"Being here today, I start seeing guys and I'm hearing their stories and I didn't even know they were sick and that's why they're here," retired FDNY battalion chief Robert Norcross told CBS2's Andrea Grymes. "They just found out last year or a year and a half ago and someone else will pop up next month."

You couldn't help but be moved by the stories of first responders like NYPD Officer David Hawley, who got a rare throat cancer from working at ground zero and said he wouldn't have survived without the federal program, CBS2's Marcia Kramer reported.

He offered a blunt assessment about what would happen if Congress doesn't renew it.

"People are going to die, the men and women that are sick that are being taken care of now. I've only been cancer-free a little over a year," Hawley said. "To end this program, people are going to die."

Also pleading to lawmakers was retired NYPD detective Barbara Burnette, who has a laundry list of ailments from working on the toxic pile.

"I spent weeks at the World Trade Center site, shoveling, clearing away debris, searching for survivors and later sifting for body parts of the dead," Burnette said.

An estimated 1,000 New York City firefighters have been diagnosed with cancer since 9/11, including Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Riley.

"That was the hardest day of my entire life when I found out and even harder when I had to tell my family," he told WCBS 880's Peter Haskell.

"We have lost now, post-9/11, 111 firefighters and fire officers to line-of-duty illness as a result of 9/11," Deputy Chief Richard Alles told CBS2. "Fifteen-hundred members have been put out on disability as a result of their illnesses due to 9/11. We have 1,035 fire officers and firefighters that have been diagnosed with serious cancer."

FDNY Members Seriously Hurt In 9/11 Aftermath To Testify Before Congress

The 58-year-old wants to explain to Congress why this funding is so critical.

"If they, in the middle of my treatment, said sorry there's no more funding, now what do I do? Where's that money coming from?" he said

Four years ago, President Barack Obama signed the act, which pays the medical bills for the 33,000 people suffering from 9/11-related illnesses, including first responders.

The bill's two critical programs providing medical treatment and compensation are set to expire in October 2015 and October 2016, respectively. The bill under consideration would extend medical treatment and compensation through the year 2041.

"It took us nine years to get the bill passed the first time and it will not be easy this time, but we will get this done," Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a co-sponsor of the bill, told 1010 WINS. "They were there for us and we need to be there for them."

"This is something that it is absolutely necessary to continue," Long Island Rep. Peter King added.

The bill is named for James Zadroga, an NYPD officer who died of a 9/11-related illness in 2006 at the age of 34.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.