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The Chief-Leader

Link Deaths of 3 Firemen, Cop To WTC Site
Health Officials Urge Screening, Offer Free Treatment

By GINGER ADAMS OTIS

Jan. 20, 2006—The Uniformed Firefighters' Association announced Jan. 13 that two of its members and a Battalion Chief have died in recent months due to lung illnesses the union believes are linked to toxic exposures from Sept. 11 and its aftermath.

Timothy Keller: Death tied to Ground Zero?     
Photo Credit: EMT Dino Puzino

TIMOTHY KELLER: Death tied to Ground Zero?

 

The UFA's declaration came a week after the Detectives' Endowment Association said the death of retired detective James Zadroga, 34, was tied to the 450 hours he spent at Ground Zero following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sudden Illnesses

UFA Vice President James Slevin said the recent deaths of Firefighter Walter Voight, 55, Firefighter Stephen Johnson, 48, and Battalion Chief Joe Costello were unexpected and quick.

All three men were involved in either the initial response or rescue and clean-up efforts at Ground Zero. Firefighter Voight and Firefighter Johnson were among the many Fire Department members who retired a few years after 9/11. Both left the FDNY in good health, on normal service pensions.

"That's part of what makes their deaths such a cause for grave concern," Mr. Slevin said. "They retired in late 2003, early 2004, and then sickened and died within the span of a year. From what we've been told, their diseases progressed very rapidly."

Mr. Slevin said doctors had advised the union that a rash of lung illnesses - Reactive Airway Distress Syndrome (RADS), asthma and others- would turn up among some members almost immediately, but cancer-related diseases would not start appearing for four to five years.

'Worried We'll See More'

"The union has been actively involved with the pension board and initially we did not see deaths, only disability cases," Mr. Slevin confirmed. "Now we are concerned that the doctors' timeline is right and that we will see a spike in cancer-related deaths."

Battalion Chief Costello also died of lung-related disease. He left active service in 2005 on a disability pension and died this month, according to the union.

The FDNY has not confirmed any deaths among its members due to 9/11 exposures, but the UFA said it's unlikely the men had pre-existing conditions that weren't picked up by the comprehensive medical exam to get on the job, or the yearly qualifying physicals firefighters must pass to stay on the job.

Autopsy results are still pending on Mr. Zadroga, but union leaders now consider him the sixth possible fatality among city workers who were at Ground Zero.

Two EMTs Died

Two Emergency Medical Technicians, both non-smokers, died last year from respiratory-related diseases. EMT Timothy Keller, 41 and EMT Felix Hernandez, 31, responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Mr. Keller's autopsy listed the cause of death as a heart attack linked to respiratory distress. The details of Mr. Hernandez's death haven't been released by the family, but he was on medical leave from the Fire Department for a lung-related illness.

The city has not acknowledged the possibility that these first responders might have died as a result of their work at Ground Zero.

Last week Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, speaking to the press after a graduation ceremony which saw 1,121 new recruits inducted into the NYPD, admitted that "it is an issue that we probably have to come to grips with."

Mr. Kelly declined to talk about what role the city should take in helping the families of first-responders who may have died as a result of 9-11 related diseases.

"It's a big issue, and I don't think I'm prepared to make a statement now. It affects not only the Police Department, but other agencies as well. I think the determination of the cause of death is critical here," the Commissioner said.

Meanwhile, private-and-public sector health officials are urging all workers who responded in any way to the Ground Zero site, either on 9/11 or in the following days and months, to sign up for free screening and monitoring examinations provided by the Mount Sinai Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine and other area occupational medicine providers, if they haven't already done so.

Assistance Programs

Listed below are a number of ongoing programs that were set up to help World Trade Center workers and volunteer-responders, including rescue and recovery emergency personnel, as well as those engaged in essential service restoration and debris removal and clean-up around Ground Zero and the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island.

The Fire Department runs similar programs for its members, administered by the FDNY Bureau of Health Services that conducts ongoing medical health screenings of firefighters and Emergency Medical Service personnel. Members should contact the department if they haven't already to sign up for monitoring.

The Mount Sinai World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program provides free, confidential medical monitoring examinations. WTC responders who participate in the program at Mount Sinai or with other area providers will receive comprehensive and confidential medical examinations at regular intervals. If you are then diagnosed with any physical or mental health problems, you may be referred to one of the adjunct area treatment programs also run by Mount Sinai.

Who is Eligible?: You may be eligible if you were engaged in first-response, rescue and recovery, service restoration or any of the clean-up efforts at Ground Zero and related sites.

If you've previously enrolled in the WTC Worker and Volunteer Medical Screening Program, your health can continue to be monitored under this program.

How Do I Sign Up?: Call the Registration Hotline at 888-702-0630. If you've already signed up, but want to change your contact information, you can call the hotline or go online to www.wtc .exams.org.

What's the Cost?: The program is free of charge.

Manhattan: Mount Sinai - I. J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 10 East 101st St., 2nd Floor. Phone: (212) 241-155, Web site: www.mssm.edu/cpm/selikoff_clinical_center/ (Exams also conducted in Spanish and Polish);

Bellevue Hospital Center/NYU School of Medicine Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 462 First Avenue at 27th St., Phone: (212) 562-3849 (Exams also in Spanish).

Queens: Center for the Biology of Natural Systems, Queens College, 163-03 Horace Harding Expressway. Phone: (718) 670-4216 (Exams also in Spanish).

Suffolk County: The State University of New York, Stony Brook, Long Island Occupational and Environmental Health Center. Phone: (631) 6429100 Web site: www.lioehc.org.

In Eastern Suffolk: 625 Belle Terre Road, Suite 207, Port Jefferson, NY 11777.

In Western Suffolk: 3002 Expressway Drive North, Suite 200A, Islandia, NY 11749.

Nassau County: Nassau University Medical Center Pulmonary and Critical Care Division, 2201 Hempstead Turnpike, Phone: (516) 572-8714.

New Jersey-Piscataway: University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, 170 Frelinghuysen Road, Phone: (732) 445-0123 Ext. 601 Web site: www.eohsi.rutgers.edu/.

Responders may also change where they want to have their exams by filling out a location change form or by calling 888-702-0630.

The World Trade Center Health Effects Treatment Program was designed for workers and volunteers who have health problems caused or aggravated by their participation in WTC-related efforts. The program treats WTC-related sinus and breathing difficulties; WTC-related throat irritation; WTC-related feelings of sadness or depression; and WTC-related feelings of nervousness or anxiety.

Who is Eligible?: You may be eligible if you were engaged in first-response, rescue and recovery, service restoration or any of the clean-up efforts at Ground Zero and other WTC-related sites.

What Kind of Treatments Can I Expect?: The program provides diagnostic and ongoing medical treatment services for WTC-related medical conditions. The physicians are specifically trained in the identification and treatment of work-related illnesses.

The program can also help you apply for a range of benefits and entitlements, get financial assistance for medication and, if you are eligible, apply for health insurance if currently uninsured.

What's the Cost?: No out-of-pocket charges for WTC-related conditions. If you need outside testing or referrals that can't be conducted at the clinic, the Health Effects Treatment Program staff will help you arrange for payment.

How Do I Sign Up?: The program has offices in Manhattan, Queens and Yonkers. Call any of these numbers: Manhattan: (212) 241-9059, Queens: (718) 278-2736, Yonkers: (914) 964-4737.

Similar treatment programs given in concert with other area occupational medicine centers also providing medical monitoring examinations.

The Mount Sinai World Trade Center Mental Health and Screening Intervention Program is designed to help people cope with the psychological effects of 9/11 and the stress that can come from being diagnosed with an illness, or fearing that you might be.

Who is Eligible?: You may be eligible if you were engaged in first-response, rescue and recovery or any of the clean up effort at Ground Zero and other WTC-related sites. This program is staffed with psychiatrists and social workers who, aside from offering counseling services, can also help people get the necessary paperwork to file Workers' Compensation claims, authorize medications and treatments and assist with the filing of documentation for Social Security and other benefits. There is no out-of-pocket charge for WTC-related conditions.

How Do I Sign Up?: The best way is to go through the Mount Sinai World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program, but you can also call the program directly at (212) 241-8462.

Mount Sinai also has programs available for WTC-affected area residents and workers who had to work in the area in contaminated offices, and residents who live in the affected area. Services offered through the center as well as at other New York State Network of Occupational Health Clinics can be reached by calling Mount Sinai at (212) 241-5555. For a list of other providers, call (800) 458-1158 or go online to www.health.state.ny.us/nysdoh/environ/occupate.htm.