Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living: First Responders Still Go Unprotected

9/11 Remembrance Ceremony in Great Falls

On September 11th, 2001 343 firefighters died instantly when the Twin Towers collapsed, along with 60 police officers and eight paramedics. 16 years later, the death toll continues to rise.

On 9/11 union firefighters and first responders gave their lives protecting their fellow New Yorkers. After the Towers collapsed, many more went to work clearing the way for the city to rebuild itself and for the nation to heal.

The latest figures state that thousands of firefighters, police officers, ambulance staff, and sanitation workers have reported that they now have cancer.  The Fire Department of New York documented 863 firefighters and ambulance workers with cancers certified as relating to their work on and following September 11th, 2001.

The World Trade Center Health Program, which is run for police officers, construction workers, sanitation staff, and other New York City employees and volunteers, said it had 1,655 patients with cancer.

Doctors say those who spent significant amounts of time at the site where the Two Towers once stood are at increased risk of a number of different cancers, after coming into contact with “wildly toxic” dust emitted for months following the World Trade Center attacks.

Great Falls Firefighters during a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on September 11th, 2017

From 2001 to 2003, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund processed claims relating to injuries and deaths caused by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2011, the fund was re-opened to compensate first responders and individuals who later experienced health problems related to 9/11.

“As we remember our brothers and sisters who gave their lives on 9/11, we must also remember and honor the living. Thousands of heroes are still fighting for their lives and battling the diseases they developed because of their selfless work during the days, weeks, and months following the attacks on New York City and Washington,” says Al Ekblad, Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. “It’s important to mourn, but we must also stand up for all first responders so they know we have their backs when they put their lives and well-being in danger.”

In the years that followed the 9/11 attacks, New York’s finest had to fight for the care they deserved. For many, the fight for earned compensation continues.

46 states have presumptive illness laws for first responders, whose bravery and heroism puts them in contact with known carcinogens. Montana is one of only four states to note have such a law. During the 2017 Legislative Session, two Republican Representatives from Great Falls work to kill a presumptive illness bill after telling their constituents and the firefighters of Great Falls that they would support the measure. The Representatives were Fred Anderson and Jeremy Trebas.

“It’s infuriating that we’re still fighting this fight in Montana,” says Ekblad. “I hope that the politicians who are blocking the presumptive illness bill in Montana will spend today reflecting on what we owe our first responders and the people who put their lives in danger for our safety.”

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