Chernobyl & Memories of September 11th, 2001

I recently saw a post on social media discussing the new HBO mini-series: Chernobyl, so I thought I would check it out. Before I was an author, I was a NYC cop. I remember when the incident occurred back in April 1986, and all the ensuing media coverage. What I didn’t expect was the flashbacks I would experience and the parallels, to what occurred on September 11th that I would be presented with.

First, let me say that, from a historical perspective, I highly recommend watching this show. They have done an amazing job and it is quite compelling. That being said, as I watched it I began feeling more and more anxious and recalling my time in lower Manhattan following the September 11th terror attack.

Here are a few reasons:

1.       After the explosion at Chernobyl, police and fire responded to the scene, completely unaware of the dangers they would soon face. Even after they realized something wasn’t right, they continued to stay and perform their duty. By the same example, on the morning of September 11th, it was obvious we were under attack, but that didn’t mean anything to the first responders. Even after the South Tower fell, everyone remained behind; and continued in the evacuation and rescue efforts.

 2.       Residents from nearby Pripyat gathered on a train trestle to watch the incident in the distance, unaware of the danger that lurked in front of them. In one scene, you can see the radioactive ash that was being carried along by the wind, enveloping the onlookers, while children played in it. It became known as the Bridge of Death. Sadly, I remember the streets of lower Manhattan being covered in the same ash. It wasn’t radioactive, but it was certainly contaminated with toxins. Everywhere you walked you breathed it in and kicked it up with your footfalls. It reminded me of a grey snowstorm, but instead of it being a winter wonderland it was actually a nightmare.

 3.       In one scene, a mask is given to one of the miners, brought in to dig beneath the destroyed reactor. He asks if the mask will do anything, and the reply is ‘probably not.’ The same thing happened on 9/11, when we were given basic painters masks to wear. It seemed ludicrous to me, knowing the masks provided zero protection from the particles we were dealing with. It was so bad that even the cartridges on the heavy duty respirators were clogging in minutes. There is only so much you can do before you end up just accepting your fate and work without the useless equipment.

 4.       Lies – Socialism is many things, but transparent it is not. The residents and responders were lied to ‘for their own good.’ The international community was even lied to when they were told the situation at Chernobyl was minor and that it was under control. Everything was about assuaging their fears, but the reality was that the lies were all designed to protect the government, not the citizens. We like to believe that our government is different, but it is not. After 9/11, the focus was on returning New York City (and the Stock Market) back to normal, as quickly as possible, following the attack. The EPA Director came out and emphatically stated that the air around Ground Zero was safe; it wasn’t and they knew that. It was bad enough that they lied to the first responders and construction workers, but they re-opened the area and exposed innocent civilians to risk, many of whom are now sick and dying. There was no consideration given to the secondary contamination risk and the majority of us brought our uniforms and gear home, exposing out families to the toxins. Sadly, the government won’t even acknowledge this, even though the data shows an increase in medical illnesses among family members versus the general public. In the case of Chernobyl, the State was aware of a flaw in the RBMK reactors, but they chose to bury that fact. Prior to 9/11, the government was aware that there was actionable intelligence of a planned attack, yet this fact was kept out of the 9/11 Commission Report. Ironically, the death toll from Chernobyl is estimated between 3,000 and 100,000 (initial explosion and long term sickness), although the official number stands at only 31. We lost 3,000 people in the initial attack on the World Trade Center site and since then almost the same number have died and there are nearly 100,000 people that are sick from their exposure.

 5.       Promises – Interestingly enough, the brave men they sent in were promised that the State would take care of them. I wonder how many went in believing that the State would keep its promise, only to find out it was a lie. It’s easy to promise something in the middle of a crisis, but when the crisis is over memories fade quickly. Today, 17 years after the terror attack of September 11th, the heroes and victims are still fighting our government to receive the care and compensation they were promised. Today, June 11th, 2019, Actor / Comedian Jon Stewart and many of the responders testified before Congress. Sadly, while the gallery was packed with those who were sick and dying, very few representatives even bothered to show up for the hearing. I don’t think I can put it any more poignantly than Mr. Stewart did: “What an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to. Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders—and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress."

 At the end of the HBO show I was left asking myself a very difficult question: What separates the United States from Soviet Russia? The answer I arrived at: Nothing.

This isn’t an indictment of our system of government, but rather it is an indictment of our governmental leaders. The people of the Soviet Union didn’t elect their leaders, but we did. We expected them to be different, but in the end they caved to their own greed and hubris, just like those in the former USSR. This isn’t a democrat or republican problem, it is a CONGRESS problem. Both sides have turned their back on the victims and heroes.

To be fair, when the renewal for the Victim’s Compensation Fund came up, many eagerly jumped on to co-sponsor the bill, but they were the exception, rather than the rule. No, the vast majority of those current sponsors have had to be forced to support it. To them #NeverForget is a catchy phase they dust-off once a year; a campaign slogan that is hollow. It doesn’t personally affect them and they don’t care. The only time they care is when they are shamed into it at the threat of a political challenge.

No, the people of the Soviet Union didn’t have a choice, but we do.

I implore you, as a 9/11 cancer survivor, on behalf of all those who are sick and dying from the toxins they ingested, take one moment and contact your elected representatives and demand they take action to fully fund the Victim’s Compensation Fund. This September 11th should send a resounding signal to those who gave every last measure that day that their sacrifices will Never Be Forgotten.

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Throwback Thursday - Behind the Scenes (NYPD ESU)

Readers of my books know that I reference a lot of different places and agencies. So today I am continuing the theme of Throwback Thursday, the 2nd in the on-going series, by introducing you to what I consider the preeminent unit within the NYPD; the Emergency Service Unit. In my second book, Queen’s Gambit, ESU plays a pivotal role in the hunt for terrorists threatening NYC.

The saying goes in New York City: ‘When a civilian needs help they call 911, but when a cop needs help they call ESU.’

 In 1964, the Philadelphia Police Department established what became known as the first official Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team in the United States. Three years later, the Los Angeles Police Department launched their SWAT team. These were the first units dedicated to specifically addressing escalating violence in urban areas. Without taking anything away from these two premier agencies, in my opinion they were about four decades late to the party.

In 2015, after five years of research, I wrote: Uncommon Valor, a history of the insignia of ESU. It was my goal to record not only the insignia of this acclaimed unit, but also the rich history. I was deeply honored when Police Commissioner William Bratton called me to say that he was having this book included at the NYPD Police Academy library.

The origins of the modern ESU date back to 1925, when NYPD Police Commissioner Richard Enright, created the Police Emergency Automobile Squad. This unit arose out of the need to address changes in the growing urban landscape in New York City.  A steadily growing population, coupled with increases in urban construction and a diversifying system of transportation, began to present new issues that the regular patrol officers simply could not begin to handle effectively. Officers were now being forced to contend with a myriad of issues, such as gas leaks, pedestrians being run over by vehicles or falling from elevated train lines, and horses that would fall into open construction sites. It soon became obvious that there was a need to have a specialized unit, which would be available to respond to the new type of emergency situations that New York City was beginning to face. 

On November 3rd, 1926, the officers of Emergency Service engaged in their first major gun battle when NYC mobster, Herman ‘Hyman’ Amberg, who was in jail for the murder of a local jeweler, attempted to escape from the old ‘Tombs’ jail on Centre Street, along with two other prisoners. Pistols had been previously smuggled into the jail for the three men. They faked illnesses so that they would be brought to the jail doctor. Once inside the doctor's office, they pulled their guns and attempted to escape. Newly assigned Warden, Peter Mallon, heard the commotion and came running to stop the escape. He was shot and killed as he entered the office. The three inmates then fled into the prison courtyard, near the Lafayette Street gate, where they exchanged shots with Keeper (the former title for Corrections Officer) Jeremiah Murphy and his partner, Daniel O’Connor. Keeper Murphy was killed and his partner was wounded.

Emergency Service responded and engaged the inmates from nearby buildings, raking the jail from all sides with heavy machine gun fire and gas bombs.  The gun battle at the Tombs went on for thirty minutes, with hundreds of rounds being fired. Amberg and the other two inmates hunkered down behind a pile of coal in the yard, before making their way to the safety of a guardhouse. They occasionally returned fire, wounding a police officer and a businessman in the Conklin Building across the street. At some point, two of the inmates were shot and wounded. With no escape possible, all three committed suicide. 

Over the decades, the role of the Emergency Service Unit has continually evolved. While they still respond to all major disasters, they have become the tip of the spear in the response to terrorism. On September 11th, 2001, of the twenty-three members of the NYPD killed on that day, fourteen were members of ESU. Sadly, in the years since, a number of members have succumbed to 9/11 related illnesses from the toxins they ingested during the rescue & recovery efforts.

In addition to its traditional role, ESU also provides Counter Assault (CAT) / Counter Sniper (CS) Team’s for major events and dignitary protection details. Like the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, ESU works hand in hand with their counterparts in the United States Secret Service and is part of the protection details for presidential motorcades and venues.

The motto of the NYPD ESU has always been: ‘Anytime, Anywhere, Any Place’.

If you have ever watched a newscast, concerning any major event in NYC, it is almost certain that you will see the familiar vehicles of the ESU. Contained within these trucks is a variety of equipment to handle any type of incident. When confronted with a situation they have never encountered before, they will find a way to perform the impossible.

The men & women of ESU are the epitome of the title: NY’s Finest.

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Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)

Photo courtesy of Tom O’Connor (NYPD ESU - Retired)

Stabbed in the Back (Again) – 9/11’s Forgotten Heroes

It pains me greatly to have to write this, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of politicians in Washington, D.C. truly wish we would all die. That may sound harsh, but there can be no other answer to explain their callousness when it comes to this issue.

Every September 11th, they seize on the opportunity to wrap themselves up in faux patriotism, jump in front of the cameras, and boldly proclaim that they will #NeverForget, but the reality is that come September 12th, they have already FORGOTTEN.

Let me explain to you what is at stake here. Right now, there are thousands of first responders and victims of the attack who are dealing with terminal illnesses, as a result of their exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero. For some it is not a simple cancer diagnosis, but multiple cancer diagnosis. Many are incapacitated to the point that they cannot work, meaning they are left with skyrocketing medical bills along with their own personal bills. The stories are heartbreaking.

Imagine being one of these heroes, who spent countless hours of self-sacrifice at Ground Zero, risking their lives for others, but now you have to struggle to come up with enough money to keep a roof over your head? Yes, this is happening in America today. What’s worse is that the very system setup to help, has been slow-walking the processing of claims for years. My own VCF claim for cancer has languished in some federal employee’s in-box for well over a year and has not even been looked at. My lawyers tell me that it will be an additional six months to a year before it is even reviewed. I can guarantee you that every payday those dedicated employees are getting THEIR checks on time. I’m not sure what these employees are being paid for this work, but I can tell you that the Special Master in charge of running this program earns close to a cool quarter of a million dollars a year for running this debacle.

When the original Victim’s Compensation Fund was created, shortly after the attacks, it was NOT out of the kindness of their collective political hearts. They did it simply because they were playing a game of CYA. Why you ask? Well, for starters, the government lied to us by claiming that the air was SAFE, even though they knew it wasn’t. Then, they decided that in exchange for their quick settlement we could not sue the airlines or the government. But that original VCF plan only ran for a short time and was shut down.

It took a number of years, and a growing community of sick first responders and victims, before the politicians acquiesced. In 2010, they passed a new iteration of the VCF called the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, and then in 2015 they reauthorized, providing coverage for victims through 2090. The only problem was that they never adequately funded it. In fact, it was ridiculously underfunded. To be clear, the government was intimately aware of the escalating cases of deaths and diseases from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero and opted to slap a Band-Aid on the wound.

On February 15th, 2019, a notice went out from the Special Master. It effectively notified those who had claims waiting to be processed by the VCF that the fund was running out of money and that any awards would now be slashed by 50%. It further stated that any new claims that were filed would see a 70% reduction.

 

Mind you, this is the same government that sends billions of dollars annually to FOREIGN governments, but turns a blind eye to the heroes and victims of the worst terror attack in U.S. History. What has become of this great nation when we send more money annually to the nation that the 9/11 attack was launched from then we provide for the victims during the life of the program?

The government would like you to believe that the effects of the attack ended shortly after September 11th. Here is a newsflash: On September 11th, 2001, I lost 23 NYPD brothers and a sister. Since then, we have lost nearly 6x that number and those are only the ones that the NYPD has gotten around to approving. The actual number is probably closer to 200, if not more, and it will only rise. I wish I could tell you the number of FDNY, but it is safe to safe that it is even higher for them.  The reason that the numbers are even this low is because these agencies, in concert with the city, are trying to fight the awarding of any additional line of duty designations. In the end, it is all about money. The government certifies your illness as being directly attributed to the attack, but the city ignores it.

You would think getting approval for the funding of the Zadroga Act would be a political ground ball, but you would be wrong. To date, there are only 21 sponsors in the Senate and only 93 in the House; which means that of the 535 total members of Congress, 421 have FORGOTTEN. What is equally galling to me is the fact that from the Republican side, MY party, there are a combined total of twenty-five. Yep, those same folks who wrap themselves up in the flag every year and proclaim #NeverForget are a bunch of lying SOB’s. Hell, I can’t even get my own Congressman, Rodney Davis, to respond to my communications to him, let alone to co-sponsor the bill. All he can come up with is catchy tweets once a year.

This will not change unless Americans do something about it. If you are one of those people that reminisce every year about where you were on the morning of September 11th, then you need to do something for those people who were THERE on September 11th.

The heroes and victims of 9/11 are sick, dying and running out of time. They need YOUR help and they need it now. Contact your Senators and Representatives and DEMAND that they treat them just as well as we treat our ‘friends’. No more Foreign Aid until America’s heroes are taken care of first.

Media Outlets: If you are interested in discussing this matter, please CONTACT ME directly.

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Never Forget the Heroes: The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Act (S. 3591 / H.R. 7062)

FORGOTTEN – The lost Heroes & Widows of September 11th

This is a post I never thought I would have to write (again), but I should have known better.

You see, I spent twenty years as a cop in New York City. I learned early on that when the camera lights dim and the T.V. satellite trucks leave, the tragedy of the crime scene is quickly forgotten. In the days and weeks following the September 11th terrorist attacks we were told by the leaders of this great nation, who obligingly wrapped themselves in the flag for the photo-ops, that America would simply #NeverForget the heroes, yet 17 years later I can confirm to you that we have indeed been forgotten.

The reality is that the September 11th attack is not a distant memory. We are quickly approaching the time where we will have lost just as many to 9/11 attributed illnesses as we did on the day of the attack. The aftermath of the attack has never ended.

Those of us who responded that fateful day were aware of the dangers we faced, even after being lied to by the ‘Honorable’ Christine Todd Whitman, who was then head of the EPA, that the air was safe. Ms. Whitman now regrets her role in perpetuating the lie. Gee thanks for nothing, Chrissy. Anyone who was there can tell you that there was nothing even remotely safe, including the air, but they did their jobs without consideration of the risks. Unfortunately, as soon as the sicknesses began to set in, the politicians, like those T.V. crews, packed up and moved on.

“Heroes, what heroes?”

It took nearly a decade to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act passed.

As a Republican, I am profoundly ashamed to say that it was my party that stood in the way. What should have been a bill that both sides could have rallied around became a political football, with Republicans threatening to filibuster the bill unless they got tax-cut concessions. Apparently #NeverForget the Heroes is politician-speak for: “What can I get out of this?”

In 2015, politicians were once again shamed into backing an extension of the bill and once again it was the Republicans who dragged their heels. Amazingly, when it comes to their pet projects they are all about funding, but when it comes to helping out people who have truly earned it, they all become die-hard fiscal conservatives.

Now here we are, in 2018, and funding is again running out. And just like in the past, these same politicians need to be shamed into acting.

In 2015, my congressional representative, Rodney Davis, was on record saying the following:  “We will never forget. I remember we were on vacation and I was getting Toryn ready to go to the beach when a plane hit the second tower 14 years ago. Where were you?”

Well Rodney, I can tell you I wasn’t at no friggin’ beach like you were! But you already knew that (hint: Rodney and I used to be on a first name basis a few years ago, but then he got elected to congress and forgot about the people who supported him.)

Sadly, I had to shame Mr. Davis (How “Never Forget the Heroes of 9/11” turned into “Who?”) before he finally signed on as a co-sponsor for the 2015 extension

Back then I got a form letter e-mail response from him, something to the effect that he would be ‘looking into it.’ This time I didn’t even get so much as an e-mail acknowledgment (Perhaps it is lost in the internet). So, it looks like I am going to have to do it all over again. Who knows, perhaps he might even find himself in a contested election, the next time around…… You know, by an actual hero who won’t forget.

The sad reality is that the men and women who rushed in to help on September 11th, 2001, are sick and DYING and a lot of politicians would just be happy to see them go quietly into the grave. They are losing their homes because they are having to choose between receiving medical treatments or keeping a roof over their families head. Widows are being nickel and dimed to death through award ‘deductions’ in what the system cheerfully calls “collateral assets”…….. Funny how the Victim’s Compensation Fund is making victims out of us a 2nd time around.

I know we all have our problems, our own issues, but I am begging each and every one of you to stop for just a moment and please contact your elected representative and urge them to sponsor this bill. If they are a member of the Senate it is S. 3591 and if they are a member of the House it is H.R. 7062. Of all the things they can slash, it shouldn’t be the health benefits of those who gave every last measure that tragic day.

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These are the facts today:

  • The more than 42,000 people who are in the World Trade Center Health Program are suffering from at least one certified 9/11 condition caused by toxins at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the Shanksville crash site, while a large percentage have multiple conditions.

  • Chronic diseases like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and cancer continue to plague those who were exposed to the many toxins and carcinogens on 9/11 and in the weeks and months thereafter.

  • Over 9,300 of those enrolled in the Health Program have been certified with a 9/11 related cancer, with more being diagnosed every day. Thousands more who have been diagnosed with cancer are only now joining the health program, so these numbers will increase dramatically.

  • 9/11 responders and survivors in the Health Program reside in all 50 states and in 434 out of 435 Congressional districts.



Ride to Remember 9/11 – Hall’s Harley Davidson, Springfield, Il.

Yesterday I had the distinct honor and privilege to be part of an amazing memorial to honor the heroes of September 11th. The event, organized by Hall’s Harley Davidson in Springfield, Illinois, is a motorcycle ride to remember those lost in that horrific attack. I would like to personally thank Stan & Pat Hall, Diane & Larry Hughes, and Theresa Jones Unger. Not only were they kind enough to include us in this event, but they made us feel like family.

I have done speaking events in the past and they are always very emotional, as I remember those we lost that day and those who continue to suffer through illness brought on by exposure to toxins at Ground Zero, but to be surrounded by so many patriotic folks restores my faith that those who sacrificed everything that fateful day will never be forgotten.

These gatherings seem to happen at such a quick pace that it is impossible for me to remember all the amazing people that I get to meet, from the military veterans to the young school kids who weren’t even born when the Towers fell. It might just be a quick handshake or brief conversation, but for that moment I am reminded of just how far-reaching the impact of 9/11 was to this entire nation. To them I would just like to say that your kindness and warmth are truly touching and I thank you all.

I would be remiss if I didn’t extend my sincere thanks to Springfield, Illinois Mayor Jim Langfelder and Fire Marshal Chris Richmond who both went out of their way to make me feel welcome at the event. I would also like to thank Cymphanie Sherman, from WICS Channel 20, for interviewing me about the attack and the first responders who continue to suffer with illnesses attributed to exposure at Ground Zero.

If you are in the Springfield, Illinois area, mark your calendar for next year’s memorial ride: September 8th, 2019 and if you are ever in the area, please stop by and thank the staff at Hall’s Harley Davidson for being the true patriots that they are.

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Thank you and God bless.

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