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New York Times

SPECIAL REPORT

Fury of forgotten
Vics in 9/11 health crisis fume Mike 'dropped ball'

BY LISA L. COLANGELO, MICHAEL McAULIFF and CORKY SIEMASZKO
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITERS

July 25, 2006—Stop dithering and do the right thing.

That was the message to Mayor Bloomberg from 9/11's forgotten victims and their outraged advocates after Hizzoner refused yesterday to acknowledge that the deaths of at least four first responders — and the illnesses of thousands more — were directly related to their laboring in the toxic stew that was Ground Zero.

"I'm a very big fan of Mayor Bloomberg," said disabled former paramedic Marvin Bethea, 46, of Queens. "But I think he has dropped the ball on 9/11."

Former ironworker John Sferazo, whose lungs were scarred from working in The Pile, said they didn't think twice about "getting to those possible survivors who needed help."

"But here it is five years later," said Sferazo, 51, of Huntington Station, L.I. "I ask one question: If we were there when you needed us, then how long will we have to wait when we need you?"

Prodded by a series of hardhitting Daily News editorials that revealed the suffering of 12,000 Ground Zero workers, Bloomberg promised Sunday to look into whether the city stiffed its 9/11 heroes.

But when The News asked Bloomberg point-blank yesterday how much more evidence the city needs before it does right by heroes whose health was ruined, the mayor simply repeated his earlier vow to "take a look" at the situation.

"The city always wants to make sure that we deal fairly and particularly with those that put themselves in harm's way," Bloomberg said. "The city will do what's right."

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly went only a little further.

"We're open to any recommendation that's going to improve the process and going to show that deaths were caused by incidents on 9/11, we're open to that process," he said.

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which has set up a registry to monitor the health of cops who toiled at Ground Zero, said there's already enough proof that 9/11 has taken a toll on the city's Finest.

"Police officers responded instantly to the attack on the World Trade Center," said angry PBA President Patrick Lynch. "We knew what was right and we did it and now the city should do the same."

In a series of editorials, The News noted that: 600 firefighters have been forced into retirement; 25% of active-duty FDNY and Emergency Medical Service workers developed lung conditions since the disaster, and at least four responders died after giving their all at Ground Zero.

Bloomberg then vowed to do "everything we can" to help the afflicted "consistent with what our resources are."

That caveat infuriated Bethea, who was there when the towers fell — and has been gasping for air ever since. "The city is so worried now that if you open this up, it's a Pandora's box and there will be lawsuits coming out of everywhere," he said.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) said the financial burden of having to pay full disability pensions to thousands of first responders should not be shouldered solely by the city.

"What many don't realize is that this is a national problem," she said. "Following the attacks, rescuers came from across this country and I have reports of sick and injured responders from as far away as California. That is why the federal government needs to step in and take responsibility."

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