Five days ago, our nation observed the thirteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Attacks that killed, among others, 23 members of the NYPD, 37 members of the PAPD and 343 members of the FDNY. Attacks that continue to kill members of those services. Members who either were there that day and lived to tell the tale and/or members who spent days, weeks and in some cases months thereafter at Ground Zero in the search for victims of the attacks, including their fallen brothers and sisters.
On September 8, 2011 at FDNY Headquarters in Brooklyn, the Memorial Wall for members of the FDNY who had died of 09/11-related illnesses in the decade since the attacks was unveiled. The inscription on the Memorial Wall reads, "DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF THOSE WHO BRAVELY SERVED THIS DEPARTMENT IN PROTECTING LIFE AND PROPERTY IN THE CITY OF NEW YORK IN THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY EFFORT AT MANHATTAN BOX 5-5-8087 WORLD TRADE CENTER."
When the Wall was dedicated in September 2011, fifty-five names were etched on it. In early September 2012, approximately one week prior to the eleventh anniversary of the attacks, nine more names were added to the Wall. By the time the twelfth anniversary of the attacks was upon us in September 2013, twelve more names had to be added. A little more than ten days ago, when we were slightly more than one week away from the thirteenth anniversary of that terrible Tuesday morning, the FDNY added another thirteen names. In the thirteen years since it lost three hundred and forty-three members in a single day, the FDNY has borne witness to eighty-nine more members die as a result of that day's events. It is as if the answer to the question, "How much suffering can be packed into one twenty-four-hour period?" is, "An infinite amount."
The FDNY is not alone, of course, in marking and mourning the deaths of its members from September 11, 2001 almost a decade and a half after it occurred. The NYPD has continued to monitor the effects that the September 11 attacks have had on its members, above and beyond the twenty-three who were killed in the line of duty on that Tuesday thirteen years ago. In the NYPD's annual ceremony that was held in May 2014, twelve more names were added to a Hall of Heroes that already included more than fifty members of the FDNY who had died since September 11, 2001 due to illnesses contracted at Ground Zero.
I sought refuge from hard science in the hallowed halls of law school so I would not pretend to know when - if ever - death will stop hunting for the men and women who risked their lives in an effort to save the lives of strangers on September 11, 2001. I do know enough to know that not nearly enough is being done for those who are dying as a result of the life-saving efforts in which they engaged that day and in the rescue and recovery efforts that took place in the weeks and months thereafter. This, however, is an important step in the right direction.
More steps need to be taken. Once upon a lifetime ago, the First Responders who have been dying since September 11, 2001 ran headlong into Hell for men and women whose names they did not know and likely never learned, including those whose acquaintance they never met.
It is time that we do for them what they did for us. What can we do? For starters, we can make certain that our elected representatives in Congress get off their asses and do the right thing.
It would, after all, be a nice change of pace.