9/11 20th anniversary Tribute

Stories by Mitchell Krugel and Rosemary An

The PBA’s Finest

When the attacks hit on 9/11, members responded with a support effort that has never stopped

As he departed for the state meeting on Sept. 11, 2001, NJSPBA President Mike Madonna saw on television that a plane had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He did not know what kind of plane.

“I wasn’t thinking it was an airliner,” Madonna recalled.

On the drive to Royal Albert’s Palace in Fords, Madonna learned more details. Another plane hit the South Tower. Port Authority Local 116 President Gus Danese called Madonna to let him know that he and Local Vice President Paul Nunziato were aborting plans to come to the meeting and heading into New York.

Clark Township Local 125 State Delegate Keith Dunn remembers somebody finding a small television at Royal Albert’s. Members quickly learned that this was more than an accident.

Suddenly, the room lit up like the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks over the Hudson.

“Cell phones weren’t as big back then, but everybody had pagers,” Dunn detailed. “Everybody’s pagers were going bonkers. A lot of us were getting called back to our departments because there was so much panic going on.”

The PBA trailer was stocked with coffee, water and all types of food items so those working the rescue and recovery could have a place to take a break.

Seconds later, the NJSPA response to 9/11 began. A wave of “whatever is needed” and “whatever it takes” rolled on Sept. 12, and really it has been going ever since. For the next 86, days, the PBA manned its first special services trailer near Ground Zero, bringing food, water, a place to grieve and relentless support for those working the search and rescue and recovery efforts on that ghastly pile.

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 offers occasion to look back at that valiant response. It is a chance to remember and honor how members worked 24-hour shifts to lend support, how they braved getting covered in so much sought and debris that they had to throw out their uniforms when they came back and how the PBA trailer became a hub for personnel on the pile from across the country to come for a break.

“When it happened, we were falling all over each other trying to help,” explained John Hulse, the PBA’s Special Projects Coordinator who was a young State Delegate from Sussex County Local 138 in 2001. “We could have filled three trailers with guys 24 hours a day because there were so many people who wanted to help. As horrible as it was, you were lucky to be there because every American probably would have traded spots with you in an instant.”

‘I will never forget that’

Jerry Tolomeo was the Totowa Local 80 State Delegate and an up-and-coming board member in 2001. Now a lieutenant with 27 years on, he vividly describes how members reacted when Madonna adjourned the meeting 30 minutes in.

“Mike said, ‘We had a terrorist attack. Everybody go back to your department and await further instructions,’” Tolomeo noted.

Madonna helped mobilize some of the troops. He made calls to department heads like the one to Totowa chief Bob Coyle saying, “We

The PBA used golf carts and quads to bring supplies to officers and workers in various locations in and around the pile.

need Jerry.” And for the next 24 hours, Tolomeo was at Ground Zero, even donning a vest and hardhat to help direct traffic when the NYPD asked him to late on the night of Sept. 12.

“I remember driving in the back of Woodbridge police car,” he continued. “We had an entourage of police vehicles escorting us into the city. We set up that day, and I remember seeing like a cloud. It wasn’t a cloudy day, but it was just clouds from all the dust and debris. And the smell of jet fuel, I will never forget that.”

Tony Wieners, the executive vice president at the time, actually took charge of organizing the PBA response. At the time, the PBA had what was a small landscaping trailer. But they packed it with supplies and headed to the site

The PBA took up a position on a tennis court at Manhattan Community College, just up West Street from the site and near the Port Authority PD command center. Eventually, the area resembled a military supply depot where Port Authority officers, NYPD cops, members of the National Guard and anybody working the pile could come by to get socks, shoes, clothing and almost any kind of food.

The PBA had procured some quads and combined that with a golf cart to make rounds delivering supplies to people working in and around the pile. They made sure to hit the outer perimeter where NYPD officers has been assigned and seemed to feel abandoned.

“I remember talking to some NYPD cops who said, ‘Where’s our union?’” Hulse interjected. “I said, ‘Your union’s probably a little busy now, but we will take care of you.’”

PBA members would try to catch a quick nap sleeping in the pew of a nearby church. But nobody really wanted to sleep. Everybody wanted to help.

And the presence of the PBA trailer just seemed to become more and more renowned. As the days and weeks passed, members would post makeshift signs on boxes and paper plates with their Local numbers and post them somewhere on the trailer. The wallpaper kind of turned the trailer into a shrine or monument, and that was the forerunner of the patches that adorn the PBA’s current special services trailer that travels to line of duty death funerals across the country.

“I think it was a way for everybody to say, ‘Hey, we were here, and we pitched in,’” Hulse observed. “There was a lot of pride in that.”

And that’s the way it went until Dec. 16, when the PBA trailed packed up for the final time. Tolomeo, Dunn and Hulse were part of the team on hand that last day, and there’s a feeling that never dissipated the entire time.

“Everybody wanted to do what cops want to do. We wanted to help. What could we do? Where could we be of assistance,” Dunn remarked about the desire to be there. “We were hoping that it made them feel a little bit better that we were there, but in a way it made us feel better, too.”

‘Like they had been through a war’

The mark the effort made on the hundreds of PBA members who took part is indelible. And it will never fade.

When taken back 20 years, Tolomeo quipped that he could not remember what he had for breakfast the day before, but he will never forget seeing the devastation.

“I remember seeing a fire truck completely demolished, sitting in the street that they didn’t even get to clean all the debris off of,” he expressed. “There were piles and piles of rubble like 10 stories high. Walking down the street, you found papers from people’s offices. It was eerie.”

Even the looks on people’s faces still show up vividly.

“I remember seeing some officers from New York City and Port Authority that were shell-shocked,” Dunn added. “They had a look to them like they had been through a war.”

It was an emotional time wrought with personal connections for PBA members. One of the 37 Port Authority PD officers lost was James Nelson, who lived in Clark and was a close friend of Dunn. His daughters had played softball with Dunn’s daughters. Dunn’s wife taught Nelson’s daughters in school.

As PBA members joined the special services team responding at Ground Zero, they made signs with the Local name and numbers to post in the trailer.

Hulse had a similar connection. He met Port Authority Local 116 member Paul Laszczynski on a motorcycle ride, and they became instant best friends. It wasn’t until February 2002 that Hulse heard Laszczynski’s body was recovered.

So as the PBA’s response continued, it became a morale boost. Not just for the officers working on the pile, but for so many members who, like Dunn and Hulse, had a connection that made it even more personal. If that was possible.

Hubs and shrines aside, the PBA trailer became a church of sorts. Officers would come there and be greeted with a hot cup of coffee or a cold bottle of water and Entenmann’s donut that tasted like a filet mignon.

“I’ve always said that the pile, the pit was a terrible place filled with the best people in the world who were there doing such wonderful things trying to bring everybody home,” Hulse advocated. “And if there is a light, it came from within that.”

‘There’s constant reminders’ 

On Sept. 12, 2001, the NJSPBA started a mission that has only become more illustrious and helped perhaps thousands of law enforcement officers. That original trailer premiered in 1997 in honor of a little girl from Wieners’ hometown of Belleville. T

he union’s Special Services Committee raised money to help 18-month-old Megan get a heart transplant. Megan eventually received the heart but died six weeks later due to a rare infection. The Megan Jaret Heart Fund provided the donation for the first trailer, which still has a plaque inside dedicated to Megan

During the past 20 years, the PBA has added nearly a half-dozen trailers. Current PBA President Pat Colligan saw not just the support the trailers can provide, but how they have established a true presence for law enforcement across the country. He has devoted major fundraising efforts to continue growing the program.

Among the members who were there on Dec. 16 to bring the trailer home were Tony Wieners, Jerry Tolomeo, Steve Fonholtz, Vinnie Cahill, John Hulse and Keith Dunn.

The impact of the trailer grew even more in July 2016 when Hulse led groups to Dallas and Baton Rouge to honor the officers who were assassinated in mass shootings. The feeling of drivers passing them on the highways and honking with appreciation or buying them tanks of gas and meals on the road reinforced the feeling of that originated on 9-11.

Many PBA members have followed in those footsteps first set at Ground Zero. Retired Teaneck Local 215 State Delegate Andy Haase became a regular member of the trailer team. Vernon Township Local 285 State Delegate Keith Curry, Montgomery Township Local 355 State Delegate Joe Sles and Berkeley Heights Local 144 State Delegate Pat Moran also have become familiar faces lending support.

Moran was on hand when the PBA trailer went back to the site on Sept. 11, 2021, for the 20th anniversary memorial ceremony. The PBA set up at 4 a.m., and when the sun came up, Port Authority officers assigned to the area for the day, as well as those from NYPD and across the country, once again enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and a donut with the PBA,

One of the PBA members working in the trailer reported that an NYPD officer came up to the trailer and asked, “Where’s Hulse? Is he retired?”

The PBA presence has not missed a beat in 20 years. Hulse was there, of course. And he found something he did not expect when returning for the 29th anniversary.

“There’s constant reminders. Not a day goes by that doesn’t remind me of something down there,” Hulse confided. “When we left 20 years ago, it was a big hole. Now, it’s a beautiful place that has helped us all heal.”


Supreme Authority

Read all about the response from the Port Authority Police Department on 9/11 and the way Local 116 members continue to show their resilience

PAPD officers provide an honor guard at a 9/11 ceremony.

A sound or a smell can thrust Tommy Kennedy back 20 years. Back to when the south tower collapsed and left him and other Port Authority PD officers covered in nearly 10 feet of debris. Back to late on the night of 9/11 when he had confirmed 35 of the 37 PAPD officers lost in the line of duty in the attack. Back when 200 officers began a heroic, marathon response that seemed to handle the work of 10,000.

“I can tell you things, and you would sit there and say, ‘You know what, that’s made up,’” described Kennedy, who was assigned to the World Trade Center on 9/11. “Because it’s so freaking horrific and unbelievable. But the fact is the guy who was there who would completely understand it and say, ‘Oh yeah.’ There were things there that people shouldn’t see.”

The members of Port Authority Local 116 and PAPD live with the smells, sounds and tragedy of 9/11 every day. As 20 years have passed, however, it is a grand occasion to honor their courage, fortitude and resilience by retelling the story of how they responded and recovered.

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 is not so much a time for PAPD to never forget or to see the light out of the darkness. It is a time for NJSPA members to remember – or considering the numbers who have come on the job since 2001, learn about – this horrific and unbelievable story.

This recitation begins with a powerful recollection from one PAPD officer of her time working on the pile.

“The smell was so identifiable and personal. It also had colors. I looked the pile over in the morning and always noticed the changing colors. There was pink, yellow, gray and black. The work of digging and climbing around always felt as an odd honor. It was as if my friends were calling me. I needed to answer them. Sometimes, I could hear them calling me. ‘I am over here – I am here.’ Sometimes, I would cry behind my mask. I would ask them, ‘Where are you? Tell me, where are you?’”

Kennedy was also about as up-close as possible for what transpired that day and how the PAPD mustered its remarkable recovered. He is one of those PAPD officers who has blue running through his blood. His father, Tom, served 32 years with PAPD setting the table for what is now 34 years on. And his son, Tom, has been on with the agency for nine years. The same PAPD shield has been in the Kennedy family for 70 years.

He was coming across the Brooklyn Bridge when the second plane hit, and he was there for both collapses. The first one left a truck he was in covered in approximately 10 feet of dust and debris that he said was as heavy as concrete.

As for the second one…

“You know when you pulled up on West Street by the hotels, there was a big island in the middle,” he recalled. “I was standing on the island trying to move a truck down – our command post – and I turned it south on West Street. And then the building started collapsing. When I jumped off the island, I ran left, and everybody that ran left was alive. Everybody who ran right, died.”

Port Authority Police Department members left their mark on a column from one of the World Trade Center towers that stands in the WTC memorial museum.

For about the next 24 hours, Kennedy had the detail of trying to locate PAPD officers who might have been lost on 9/11. He set up in the makeshift command center at Manhattan Community College and started two lists.

Officers would come in and he asked them if they knew who was there. Names would be added to the list of who was there, and ones would be marked on the list of who was missing.

“We’d cross them off and move them to the list of who was there,” Kennedy continued. “By 1 p.m., we had our first couple of names who were lost. By 11 that night, we were probably at 35.”

Two of those names were PAPD Superintendent Fred Morrone, who perished after entering the towers to rescue people, and Chief of Police Operations James Romito, who was killed when he climbed to the upper floors to help those who were trapped. According to Kennedy, the department looked to Joseph Morris, who was designated as commander of rescue and recovery operations that day, to lead them through.

A turning point came late on the evening of Sept. 11 when Morris gathered all available PAPD personnel in the Manhattan Community College gymnasium. He faced a few hundred officers. Some had faces covered with ash. Some had difficulty seeing due to eye injuries suffered in the collapses. Still others were covered with bruises, burned skins and lacerations.

But he charged them with a calling.

“We were involved in a tidal wave,” he said. “And it is our job not to drown but to bring order to the chaos.”


Each of the 37 lost has a legendary story of how they were responding to save somebody that day. Many are as heroic as Captain Kathy Mazza, the commanding officer at the PAPD academy.

Mazza responded from the academy across the Hudson River and was in the south tower helping a woman in a wheelchair. She stayed with the woman knowing that her life was about to end and drew her service weapon to shoot out the lobby windows that provided additional escape routes.

A Port Authority officer lays a rose at the memorial where the names of the 37 officers lost on 9/11 are inscribed.

The ensuing days, weeks and months saw Morris become chief of the department and a herculean recovery effort. PAPD made the difficult decision to keep a core team working recovery at the pile, rather than rotating officers as NYPD did.

Kennedy was there every day, and he saw what compelled his agency to step up.

“With NYPD, FDNY, the New York State Police and New Jersey State Police all around us, were in the valley of the giants,” he confided. “We had to perform as well as the big guys to stay in the game. And that was one of those times when I saw a group of 200 perform like they were 10,000. It was the resilience of the women and men of the department, and it was all motivated by the fact that we lost those officers.”

Morris credited Local 116 for its help in rebuilding a department that was 1,300 at the time but is now 2,300. He said Gus Danese, the Local 116 president at the time, and the PBA helped PAPD chart its new direction.

The greatest current ongoing recovery effort as far as never forgetting and elevating morale might have been the creation of Chapter 37 of the Police Unity Tour. Kennedy and his close friend, Officer Bobby Egbert, first rode the Unity Tour in 2002 to honor the 37. A year later, they were in midst of the ride when Kennedy suggested to Egbert that they start their own chapter.

The next year, Chapter 37 was born. Kennedy has made the Tour 16 times, and each year it ends with mustering at the section of the wall at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial where the names of the 37 are inscribed.

The Port Authority PD Pipes and Drums plays every year at a mass that is part of the ceremony to remember the tragedy.

And the chapter has become a tribute to so much since its inception.

“Initially, it was done to honor our 37,” Kennedy explained. “But it was also to honor the 72 law enforcement officers killed on 9/11 and every officer who responded to the site who has been lost since.”

The 20th anniversary of 9/11 created a new layer of recovery for PAPD, like the anniversary does every year. Family members of officers who were lost come to the World Trade Center Memorial every year, and the members provide escort just like the did back then.

Kennedy shared that in the days following the attack, spouses would come to the site looking for any word about their loved ones. A PAPD officer would look after the 5-year-olds, holding their hands for hours and doing whatever needed to be done for the families.

It was like that this year, except that the children are now 25. And on the 20th anniversary, PAPD ran the whole operation for the remembrance ceremony just like it ran the whole operation on that day.

“Listen, it’s absolutely without question hallowed grounds, but it’s our grounds,” Kennedy declared. “We have been placed into the annals of distinction by a horrific event. It’s a dubious distinction, this little agency from the Northeast got that hopefully nobody else will ever have.”

Living with Darkness and Finding the Light

Port Authority PD officer Will Jimeno shares his story of surviving 9/11 in two new books

Twenty years after surviving the 9/11 attacks, Will Jimeno wrote “Sunrise Through the Darkness: A Survivor’s Account of Learning to Live Again Beyond 9/11” and a children’s book, “Immigrant, American, Survivor: A Little Boy Who Grew Up to Be All Three,” to share his story and inspire others to find light in tragedy.

It only takes a second for Will Jimeno to remember the devastation of Sept. 11, 2001.

Jimeno, who was a Port Authority PD officer and Local 116 member and now lives in Chester, was responding to the attacks and wound up buried under the rubble when the World Trade Center towers collapsed. For the next 13 hours, he battled a relentless struggle between darkness and light.

He thought he was going to die. But his sergeant, John McLoughlin, who was buried just a few feet away, suddenly made him laugh.

Jimeno was so thirsty after inhaling all the smoke and debris. He had a vision of Jesus Christ holding a bottle of water.

He placed his hands across his chest to signal “I love you” for his family to see, because he thought it was over. And then he had a sense of fight.

Amid all the darkness, he saw the light. Jimeno and McLoughlin survived being buried at the World Trade Center and have been able to watch their families grow and enjoy their lives. Now, Jimeno has authored two books that share his story and allow others to see his guiding light.

“I share the story of 9/11 to honor those we lost but also to remember the good of that day,” Jimeno explained. “As a survivor, I think it’s my obligation to educate, inspire and teach about 9/11.”

“Immigrant, American, Survivor: A Little Boy Who Grew Up to Be All Three” is a children’s book that tells the story of Jimeno’s life, from being an immigrant from Colombia to falling in love with the U.S. to following his dream of becoming a law enforcement officer.

“[I wanted to] show the good in that for the children,” Jimeno shared. “Because I feel that we have a brand-new generation now, and 9/11 to them is like what Pearl Harbor was to me as a child.”

“Sunrise Through the Darkness: A Survivor’s Account of Learning to Live Again Beyond 9/11” is an adult book that details his tragic experience during the attacks, and more importantly, explains how he was able to recover physically from the damage to his leg and mentally from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s a book that allows first responders to know they’re not alone,” Jimeno relayed. “It comes from my heart to share with my brothers and sisters to let them know that they too can overcome their darkness.”

When it comes to darkness, there is no one who can relate more than Jimeno, who has struggled with PTSD and survivor’s guilt. And no one can blame him.

He’s seen what a fireball looks like. He’s felt the walls coming down on him, literally. He’s heard the excruciating “boom” of explosions. He’s had to put spit on his hand to show rescuers his flesh because he had become part of the building. And he’s felt the harsh realization of losing two colleagues, Chris Amoroso and Antonio Rodrigues, after the first explosion at 2 World Trade Center.

Jimeno, one of two Port Authority PD officers who were found under the rubble after the 9/11 attacks, was buried for 13 hours, while fellow officer John McLoughlin was buried for 22 hours.

Only Jimeno, McLoughlin and Dominick Pezzulo made it through that first explosion. Pezzulo, who was in the best position out of the three to free himself, tried to weave Jimeno out when a second explosion knocked everyone back down.

“As fast as it happened, everything went dark [again],” Jimeno recalled. “And as the light started coming back in though the hole, I looked to my right, and unfortunately Dominick had sustained severe internal injuries and was bleeding out of his mouth. I said, ‘Dominick, hold on,’ and he said, ‘Willy, I’m dying.’”

Pezzulo asked McLoughlin for an 8-38, the police code for a break. With his last ounce of energy, Pezzulo pulled out his sidearm, pointed it up to the hole above him, and fired one round.

“It was a last-ditch effort to let somebody know we’re down here,” Jimeno clarified. “And he died. That was difficult to look over and see my friend, fellow officer, pass.”

Pezzulo was an officer who also chose to fight. And Jimeno saw this response, this light, that day from officers and civilians alike. People of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds were risking their lives to save others from the turmoil.

“What I saw was a lot of love,” Jimeno remembered. “On the darkest day in U.S. history. It was very inspiring.”

When Jimeno and McLoughlin were discovered by retired United States Marine Dave Karnes, it was two NYPD ESU Truck 1 officers, including operation leader Scott Strauss, and a civilian, Chuck Sereika, a former paramedic, who jumped into the hole to get the buried officers out.

“They were told many times to leave us,” Jimeno remarked. “They were having trouble getting me out because my left leg was so buried. I told them, ‘Cut my leg off.’ Scott said, ‘No, I’m going to get you out in one piece.’ And they did.”

After 13 hours of indescribable horror, Jimeno finally got out of the hole and was able to see the sky. The moonlight. McLoughlin would soon follow, on hour 22 of being buried. For Strauss, being able to rescue the two officers was the light amid chaos.

“My sergeant was the last man to be pulled out,” Jimeno added. “Scott Strauss always says to me, ‘Will, you, for me, was the light of our day.’”

With his books, Jimeno aims to push others to see that beam of light as well. It’s a tribute to the first responders who protect and serve every day, but also a haven for those who might feel ashamed to seek help or are simply unaware that they might need it.

“Because of them, our world is a better place,” Jimeno noted. “I want them to know that their lives and mental health are important. And not to be ashamed. There are thousands of people just like them, struggling, and sometimes you got to step out of the box and be able to say, ‘I need help.’”

“Sunrise Through the Darkness” has already reached people and helped them find light.

“Our feedback has been immense,” Jimeno revealed. “I’ve already had two first responders reach out to me and tell me how the books have helped them.”

The book is not only for first responders and 9/11 victims, but also for anyone who is struggling with tragedy and needs to see a living example of someone surviving the darkness.

“We’re all going to have our World Trade Centers,” Jimeno reckoned. “In your own life, tragedies are not competitive. If you found out you have cancer, lost a loved one or have depression, all those things are like the World Trade Center coming down on you. It’s what we do with ourselves.”

The book is also for people experiencing secondary traumatic stress. Jimeno’s wife, Allison, wrote a chapter about the family perspective, detailing how watching her husband struggle after 9/11 gave her secondhand PTSD.

“We don’t think about our families when we’re the first responders and we’re dealing with our darknesses,” Jimeno acknowledged. “People have reached out and said, ‘That [chapter] helped me understand how the things I’m bringing home affect my family.”

Most of all, the book is Jimeno’s proclamation to the world that he will not let the 9/11 attackers win. It’s his proof that you can overcome anything if you have faith, hope and love to see the light.

“I, for one, will not let 9/11 win,” Jimeno declared. “I’m going to bring the good lessons and teach that to future generations. Twenty years later, my gifts are these books.”

Jimeno learned how to live with his darkness and look toward the light. For him, that’s being blessed with the joy of watching his daughters, Bianca and Olivia, grow up. And he will continue to relentlessly help others find their own sunrise through darkness.

“Find light in tragedy no matter what tragedy you have,” Jimeno affirmed. “Because if you don’t, then tragedy wins. We cannot allow that to happen.”

You can find “Sunrise Through the Darkness: A Survivor’s Account of Learning to Live Again Beyond 9/11” and “Immigrant, American, Survivor: A Little Boy Who Grew Up to Be All Three” at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum store. The adult book is also sold by University Professors Press.



Every day must be a day to remember that there are more and more victims of 9/11, and that there is help for them

On 9/11 of this year, the world came together to help show how it will never forget the more than 400 first responders who were lost 20 years ago. But there’s another level to never forgetting that must never be forgotten.

During the past 20 years, hundreds of first responders who were at the World Trade Center site in the days, weeks and months following the attacks, have passed away. In fact, more first responders who were at the site have died than the number who were lost on 9/11.

As a result, never forgetting has become a daily occurrence for attorneys Michael Barasch and Eddie Marcowitz. These are two of the most prominent crusaders who have dedicated much of the past 20 years to helping first law enforcement officers and firefighters who have contracted illnesses – terminal and otherwise – related to responding to the World Trade Center site. Their work has helped so many receive compensation from the federal government through the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund to take care of their treatment and more importantly their families.

“For me, 9/11 didn’t end on 9/11. For my clients it didn’t end. It goes on and on,” disclosed Barasch, whose firm Barasch & McGarry have helped garner more than $3 billion for victims and their families. “A common question that reporters ask me is, ‘How does it feel to lose a client every single day?’ And it’s true. Not a day goes by without one of my 25,000 clients dying, and that’s heartbreaking.”

The words that these first responders and their families may never forget are the ones that came from New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, who declared after the attacks that the air was safe to breathe. That’s become the tipping point for serving those who responded to the site on a daily basis.

“I’ve been actually doing 9/11 work since January of 2002,” reasoned Marcowitz, whose Marcowitz Law Firm has unparalleled experience with victims compensation. “I don’t think that the public is aware of how severe the aftereffects of inhaling that dust was.”

These responders and their families continue to benefit from passage of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. The law provides health monitoring and aid to the first responders, volunteers, and survivors of the 9/11 attacks.

It is named after James Zadroga, an NYPD officer whose death was linked to exposures from the World Trade Center disaster. The law funds and establishes a health program to provide medical treatment for responders and survivors who experienced or may experience health complications related to the 9/11 attacks.

“They did an autopsy in New Jersey, where he lived, and in his lung tissue they found ground glass, asbestos, chromium, lead, benzene,” Barasch explained about Zadroga.

The 9/11 lawyers, a community of which Barasch and Marcowitz have become two of the most active and expert advocates, helped Zadroga’s father Joe and famed “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, convince congress to reauthorize the act through 2090. President Trump signed the reauthorization in 2019. Marcowitz served as the attorney for the Zadroga family.

It’s hard to fully measure what the Victims Compensation Act has been able to do because there are so many law enforcement officers and firefighters who were at the site who don’t know they are eligible. Or they didn’t know that nearly 70 types of cancers that have been linked to being at the site qualifies them for compensation. Or they are lucky to have not been inflicted…yet.

Barasch represents a New Jersey law enforcement officer whose has his chemotherapy and anti-rejection drugs covered for $25,000 per month. Marcowitz worked on an extended project representing families of victims and procured more than $300 million in benefits.

What that has meant to the families is beyond monumental.

“They were unable to grieve for a very long time,” Marcowitz noted. “But the Victims Compensation Fund has been an expression of the country’s grief for these people.”

And the protection of the act provides security that these responders need and have earned.

“When I am with a client who I know is terminal and he knows he’s terminal, he’s about to go into hospice, having the knowledge that his family is going to be financially stable, that they won’t lose their home, that his kids will be able to go to college, that brings enormous relief to the dying person,” Barasch shared.

The programs are fully funded for anybody who was in lower Manhattan or at the Staten Island landfill either on 9/11, or any 24 hours during the month of September 2001 or for more than 80 hours between 9/11 and May 30, 2002. But the presence needs to be documented and certified. Law enforcement officers need to have two witnesses to attest to their presence. And that becomes more compromised with each 0passing day as officers retire and move away.

So both Barasch and Marcowitz stress that the time to act is now. Any officer who has not registered for the World Trade Center Health program can do so by seeing Dr. Iris Udasin, the medical director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at the Rutgers University School of Public Health.

Dr. Udasin is the principal investigator for the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program and perhaps the foremost expert in the health effects of World Trade Center exposures.

“Even if you’re not feeling anything, they need to just register for the World Trade Center Health Program,” Marcowitz emphasized. “Go down there and get their yearly physical, because at this time with 20 years in, they know what they’re looking for.”

The beauty and emotion of the remembrance on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was certainly a memorable day. But it continues to be an everyday endeavor to make sure all those who responded to the site are never forgotten.

“Some have not connected the dots to their loved one’s death. They would be eligible for significant compensation from the Victim Compensation Fund if they made a claim, but they don’t know that they can make this claim,” Barasch reminded. “It is our responsibility to make sure that a guy’s last wishes – ‘Hey, I want my kids to go to college. I don’t want my family to have to move out of their home.’ – are honored and to assure them that everything is going to be OK.”