Almost 18 years later, many 9/11 first responders are plagued by long term health effects from Ground Zero.
There is concern the federal fund set up to help them is running dry.
The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is running out of money and payments will be cut 50 to 70 percent, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said.
The reason, according to the senator, is a rise in legitimate claims by first responders dealing with injuries and illnesses from answering the call on one of the country’s darkest days.
“September 11th was a day the world changed,” said West Haven Fire Department Lt. William Heffernan.
In the days after 9/11, Heffernan recalled West Haven firefighters asking themselves, “how could we not go to help the greatest fire department in the world?”
About 30 firefighters, including current Chief James O’Brien, responded to Ground Zero to help with the rescue operation in the rubble.
“To be there in person to see what transpired was overwhelming,” O’Brien said.
“We didn’t know what was in the air we didn’t know never occurred to us to worry about that,” Heffernan said.
But the exposure to toxins has led to major health problems for many 9/11 first responders.
“The ailments that we are seeing were not overnight and over time various respiratory problems arose and from that it turned into a lot of cancers were being discovered,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien goes for annual medical screenings at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York as part of the World Trade Health Center Program. The objective is to document illnesses and catch problems early.
“We have many firefighters here who are involved in the program,” O’Brien said.
Congress made funding permanent for the health monitoring program, but the money set aside to compensate first responders and their families is running low.
“This money is owed to the first responders that answered the call,” Blumenthal said during a Thursday press conference in West Haven.
Blumenthal said he plans to introduce legislation to restore funding and reauthorize the program beyond 2020, something that certainly has support in the firehouse.
“When an individual is diagnosed with an ailment or cancer, this is a compensation for them to cover medical costs,” O’Brien said. “If they’re unable to work so they can take care of their families.”
According to the most recent September 11th Victim Compensation Fund report, 366 claims have been filed by Connecticut residents. More than 130 are receiving payments.