NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Union leaders are calling for the Zadroga Act to be renewed after three retired firefighters who worked at ground zero all died on the same day from 9/11-related illnesses.
Lt. Howard Bischoff and firefighters Robert Leaver and Daniel Heglund all died Monday. All three worked at ground zero in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.
FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said their deaths were “a painful reminder that 13 years later we continue to pay a terrible price for the department’s heroic efforts.”
The FDNY lost 343 firefighters on 9/11. Many more are battling illnesses believed to stem from the contaminated air at the site.
“On that day when first responders arrived, the air was toxic and remained toxic for many months afterward,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.
First responders showed health problems soon after the attacks, with 99 percent of exposed firefighters reporting at least one new respiratory illness, according to NYC Resources 9/11 Health Statistics.
“The New York City Fire Department was the only agency that had health data on firefighters pre-9/11,” Uniformed Firefighters Association president Stephen Cassidy told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams. “The study that they did in the first year after 9/11 showed that firefighters lost 12 years lung capacity in the blink of an eye.”
The three deaths Monday raise to 92 the number of firefighters who died of illnesses directly related to the search for survivors.
“They didn’t take their health into consideration. This country needed their help that day and they responded,” Lemonda said.
Fire officials knew the three were sick, said Lemonda, whose union represents fire lieutenants, captains, battalion chiefs, deputy chiefs, medical officers and supervising fire marshals in the FDNY. One had leukemia, one had esophageal cancer and the third had colon cancer.
“The numbers are spiking,” Lemonda said. “We have over 850 firefighters and fire officers, active or retired, who have been diagnosed with 9/11-related illnesses.”
Hundreds of first responders have gotten cancer in the 13 years since the attacks, but doctors and researchers are still uncertain whether there is any link between those illnesses and 9/11.
As CBS 2’s Don Champion reported, of the firefighters and ambulance workers who have 9/11 related illnesses 80 are said to have severe cases and some are in hospice.
Their deaths come as advocates are calling to extend the benefits for 9/11 rescue workers who have gotten sick since Sept. 11.
They are calling it the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act.
The act would extend the original Zadroga bill for another 25 years. Benefits from the bill that covers medical treatment and compensation for 9/11 heroes are set to expire in the next two years.
“Currently, the 9/11 Health program delivers treatment and medical care to nearly 30,000 responders and survivors who are sick literally all across the country,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement. “Our country has a moral responsibility to continue to stand by these men and women and their families over the coming decades as these illnesses continue to manifest themselves.”
Lemonda says all 9/11 first responders need the Zadroga Act renewed to help with their healthcare and is asking for bipartisan support, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“this is not just a firefighter issue. This is an American issue. We were domestic soldiers that day,” Lemonda said.
Heglund spent 21 years with the FDNY and died just one day before his 59th birthday.
Bischoff and Leaver grew up together in Brooklyn and were childhood friends. Bischoff served 19 years with the department while Leaver served 20.
Funerals for Leaver, 56, and Heglund, 58, were scheduled for Friday.
The service for Leaver will be held at Francis of Assisi Church in West Nyack at 10 a.m. Heglund’s funeral will be at the Centerport Volunteer Firehouse at 10:30 a.m.
A funeral for Bischoff, 58, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson, N.J.
Check Out These Other Stories From CBSNewYork.com:
[display-posts category=”news” wrapper=”ul” posts_per_page=”4″]
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)