Zadroga Bill: Last Responders in Capitol FINALLY Come Through for First Responders at WTC

NY Daily News - December 23, 2010

by Michael Daly

Imagine if our cops or firefighters were like the U.S. Senate and took nine years to answer a cry for help.

At least the last responders in the Capitol finally came through and passed the Zadroga bill, providing help to the 9/11 first responders, help that should have been there as automatically as our cops and firefighters respond to 911 calls.

One senator, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, made rumblings about living up to his nickname, "Dr. No," and single-handedly blocking the bill.

Coburn really is a doctor, an obstetrician who delivered 4,000 babies. His opera singer daughter, Sarah, often performs in New York. He has never encountered a military allocation too large for him to support.

Yet, all he saw was waste when it came to helping those who responded after the worst single attack in American history. He might very well have carried through with his threat were it not for the Oklahoma City firefighters who came to our aid just as our Finest and Bravest came to their city's aid after the bombing there in 1995.

With the moral authority of a veteran who was one of the first to respond to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building, Oklahoma City Firefighters Association chief Phil Sipe pointedly called for Coburn to reconsider. Sipe made clear his view of the failure to support his New York comrades who responded on 9/11.

"A national disgrace," Sipe said.

With the indisputable good guys calling for him not to be a bad guy, Dr. No became Dr. Maybe, then Dr. Probably. He indicated to his New York counterparts a willingness to compromise.

"We're close," he said on Tuesday night.

On our side, we had a Ms. Yes, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who was widely dismissed as lightweight when Gov. Paterson appointed her to replace Hillary Clinton.

She proved to have some of the cop and firefighter in her, refusing to take no for an answer, insisting that her colleagues do what is right.

The Senate had been doing nothing at all for so long that many of our first responders remained wary early Wednesday afternoon as word spread that the bill might finally come to a vote.

"I'm crossing my fingers and crossing my toes," retired Detective Tony Conti said.

Conti was one of the NYPD Emergency Service Unit cops who lent a hand after the Oklahoma bombing. He also is among those who suffer lasting health effects from 9/11, in his case nodules and respiratory airway disease.

"CAT scan machines, MRI machines, medical and pulmonary tests," the 50-year-old said of his present life.

The physical difficulties have been joined by a psychic bleakness, a feeling that nobody cared.

"You kind of feel isolated," he allowed.

Then came the news that the bill had passed.

"I just said to myself, 'We are not forgotten. We are not forgotten,'" he told me.

He had highest praise for those Oklahoma City firefighters.

"They're the best! It's hands across America!"

He was only right to have a little bitterness in his laugh at the thought of what callers would hear if 911 was routed though the Senate and they asked when to expect emergency help.

"Nine years, don't worry about it."