- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) Many firefighters who raced to save victims of the September 11 World Trade Center attack are now facing their own health problems because of the contaminated air at the disaster site.
Some have asthma. Others have troubles ranging from a persistent cough to diminished lung capacity that can interfere with their physically demanding jobs. A few hundred are on medical leave or working light duty because of respiratory illness.
It's too soon to tell how many firefighters will be permanently disabled and forced to retire because of the respiratory problems, said Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon. But so far about 30 firefighters have started the retirement process because of the problems after working at the trade center disaster, which either caused their lung ailments or made prior ones worse, Mr. Gribbon said.
Apart from those with current symptoms, medical experts say some firefighters and other ground-zero workers may be at risk of developing cancer decades from now.
One attorney said he has filed legal documents on behalf of more than 700 firefighters with respiratory symptoms to preserve their right to sue the city later on.
Many firefighters who participated in the rescue effort are easily winded, suffer from chronic cough or have developed symptoms of asthma, said Tom Manley, health and safety officer for the Uniformed Firefighters Association.
Some on medical leave may not be able to return to their old jobs, he said.
"You can't be fighting fires with asthma," said Mr. Manley, a firefighter for 19 years. "Smoke irritates asthma severely. And when you climb stairs, you are shot by the time you get up there. You're going to be out of wind."
One fourth-generation firefighter, who worked at the trade center site 18 hours a day for the first three days after the disaster and then every other day for about a week, said his first signs of breathing trouble appeared about a month later.
He noticed he became easily winded when exercising or doing job-related activities like climbing tall ladders. "I knew there was something wrong," he said. "I was getting tired too quickly."
The man, who asked not to be identified because he thought his superiors would disapprove of his talking to the press, said he went to a Fire Department doctor for a checkup. The doctor gave him medicine, and the department put him on medical leave and told him to limit his exercise.
A few weeks ago, he started getting congested with a gritty phlegm. He said his doctor told him it was a sign his problem is clearing up. "I can live with that for now," he said.
But there's also the dry, raspy cough he has had since the first week after the disaster. "It's always there," although the severity comes and goes, he said. Once or twice a week "your lungs hurt from coughing; you get a pain in your back."
Mr. Manley, who was at the trade center when the towers collapsed, also continues to be nagged by the so-called World Trade Center cough.
"In the mornings it's heavy," he said. "It feels like a powder on the back of your throat."
Apart from the cough, "you can't take a deep breath sometimes," he said. He said he has been helped by an inhaler and medication. Mr. Gribbon said many firefighters with persistent coughs are on the job and improving with treatment.
Michael Barasch, the attorney who has filed the legal notices on behalf of firefighters, said one fireman who used to run marathons now finds he can't even carry his 3-year-old daughter up the stairs because of lung disease.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide