10 years after 9/11: Living with the sacrifice
What used to be our full time job is now just part of it
Every officer lives with the sacrifice made on September 11th. Former NYPD Sergeant Ron Moore explains, “We need to look for things we never had to look for before. What used to be our full time job is now just part of it. Besides looking for bank robbers and purse snatchers, we are looking for people who want to blow things up. I can’t get on the subway without looking around for unattended bags or packages.
“Cops were overworked before this happened. Now you throw all this onto their plates.”
Ron emphasizes that thieves are nothing compared to what terrorists are willing to do. September 11th taught every cop that lesson.
“Forget about the vest and gun. Now you have to carry a gas mask and hazmat suit and go to specialized training on weapons of mass destruction. How’s that for the scope of your job function?”
Police Officers on the Front Lines
Ron reminds all cops that when the next attack happens on American soil the “troops” who will respond are police officers.
Off duty at the time the planes struck the towers, Ron rushed to his precinct. The following weeks included 15-hour days at Ground Zero uncovering bodies and body parts in the pile.
In 2008, Ron left NYPD and joined the Nassau County Police Department for better benefits, pay, and quality of life for his family, not because of September 11th. Ron counts his blessings that he has not suffered any emotional or physical side-effects from working at Ground Zero.
Ron believes that not personally knowing any of the first responders who perished in the towers helped him cope. He also grew up in a police family. His father retired from NYPD, and both his brothers wear the badge, giving Ron a built-in support system.
The beeping of a firefighter’s depleted oxygen pack still triggers memories of Ground Zero. He admits to a heightened hypervigilance to those wanting to inflict mass causalities.
A Tough Ten Years
Former NYPD Emergency Services Unit (ESU) Officer Glen Klein had a different experience.
“Been a tough ten years,” he admits.
Fourteen officers in Glen’s ESU unit perished in the towers. Colleagues, friends, buddies, confidants. Fourteen officers and two firefighters he pal’ed around with. Hoisted brews with. Went on vacations with their wives and families.
All gone. Lost on the same day. In the same incident. And they continue to die.
On June 26, 2011, Glen’s beloved captain, Barry Galfano, lost his battle with cancer. A disease attributed to September 11th and the heroic acts that Captain Galfano performed trying to search for his ESU officers buried in the rubble — a touching video (which you can see below) featuring Captain Galfano was posted before his death by the Captains Endowment Association.
In the ten years since the World Trade Center attacks, thousands of first responders have passed away from illnesses and injuries from working at Ground Zero, the morgues, and the landfills.
Cancers with names nobody has ever heard of or can pronounce, gastrointestinal complaints, respiratory ailments, high blood pressure, reflux diseases are quite the norm for those who sifted through the remains of the twin towers.
Including Glen whose physical ailments led to his retirement in 2003 from the rank of detective. He retired on time, not medically. In 2004, other symptoms developed.
“I couldn’t sleep. Had nightmares. I started drinking heavily. Had no patience for my family. Yelled at the kids. Punched holes in the walls of the house.”
His then girlfriend Carole — who is now his wife — threatened to leave him if he didn’t get help. He continues to see a psychiatrist and social worker. He takes medication for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and to sleep.
He urges others with similar symptoms to seek help. “You’re not less of a man because you have PTSD. Even us tough guys have it.”
Glen served in ESU, the department’s SWAT team, for 16 years. He broke down doors, went after suspects with guns, he had a previous OIS where Glen went home, but the suspect didn’t. Through all that, he never had a nightmare or an adverse reaction.
“Digging for nine months for body parts in a toxic environment was not what we were accustomed to as police officers.”
Fighting for benefits plagues all first responders who have developed health issues since the attacks. Officers must prove that their ailments were caused by exposure to 9/11 debris and not an illness that they would have otherwise developed.
Getting (and Giving) Peer Support
Glen found healing in assisting other first responders. He serves on the board of the Feal Good Foundation and 911 Responders Remembered. He routinely offers peer support to first responders in crisis. Recently, a suicidal NYPD officer phoned Glen for help. Glen, along with friends including Captain Galfano, rushed to this officer’s home and talked him out of taking his own life. Captain Galfano, a thin 100 pounds at the time, spoke about his own battle to stay alive. The officer hugged each man before they left thanking them for caring. That officer is still thriving today.
For any officer, or first responder, 9/11-related or not, needing a sympathetic ear, Glen is available at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can email me to get his phone number.
Glen worries about the officers who came from other states to assist in the aftermath of the attacks. They may be sick and have not attributed their illnesses to working at Ground Zero.
“They might not be aware that there is financial help out there for them.” Glen refers to the Zadroga bill. He spent many days in Washington D.C. advocating for that legislation to extend 9/11 first responders medical benefits.
Let us not forget the others who live with the sacrifice of September 11th. The family members of those who lost a loved one during, or after, the evil attacks on American soil.