9/11 Ills Forcing Firemen Off Job

New York Post
December 21, 2001
9/11 Ills Forcing Firemen Off Job
John Lehmann & Philip Messing

About 400 of New York's Bravest are on sick leave with serious respiratory problems after their round-the-clock rescue mission at ground zero, the firefighters union said yesterday.

Tom Manley, sergeant-at-arms for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said some firefighters could be forced out of the department if their symptoms didn't improve.

Medical tests have also found that one in four firefighters are experiencing respiratory problems, the FDNY revealed last night.

"Some of it is just a cough but some of it is more serious," department spokesman frank Gribbon told the Post.

He said 6,500 firefighters had been tested since Sept. 11, but some of the health problems might have developed over many years in the job.

"You're talking about people who have fought fires for many years, whose lungs have been taking a beating," Gribbon added.

About 750 FDNY employees are on sick leave, Gribbon said. But not all of those illnesses are related to Sept. 11.

Since the terror attack, some firefighters have been off work for as long as 60 days because of severe coughs, fluid on the lungs and shortness of breath, said lawyer Anthony Gentile, whose firm is representing 200 firefighters.

He said some of the firefighters' doctors are concerned that they are exhibiting the first signs of severe respiratory complications that could lead to cancer.

Palmer Doyle, of Engine Co. 254, who has been hit with bronchitis, said his parents don't even recognize his voice then he answers the phone.

"Every morning I wake up with a sore throat and my voice is hoarse," said Doyle, who was off for 16 days after working at ground zero for almost a week after the terror attack.

But Doyle said firefighters are concerned that their ailments may lead to more serious health problems, such as cancer.

"The air down there was horrendous," he said. "It was so toxic - there was toner from photocopiers, tint from windows, benzene from jet fuel, acetone from plastics."

Doyle is one of 200 firefighters who have filed a legal notice against the city, claiming that rescue workers were not issued adequate face masks for several days after the attack.

"This is not about us, it's about our families. We have to make sure they're taken care of," Doyle said.

Gentile, of Godosky and Gentile, said the notice of motions had been filed to enable the firefighters to sue the city over the next year if their symptoms worsen.

Independent tests found the air in downtown Manhattan contained dangerous levels of asbestos and dangerous toxins after the attack, but the Environmental protection Authority maintained the air was safe.

Manley said the large number of firefighters battling respiratory problems was a further blow to the department's strength, following the 343 deaths on Sept. 11.