MTA workers who responded to the 9/11 terrorist attacks were honored Thursday for the sacrifices they made at Ground Zero.
The union representing transit workers, TWU Local 100, held a ceremony in their offices to present medals to some of the 3,000 MTA employees who have fallen ill after they spent days, weeks and months in lower Manhattan, working alongside police and firefighters in rescue and excavation efforts.
“The largest towers in New York were down and thousands of tons of debris littered lower Manhattan — thankfully transit had the needed resources that day,” said Tony Utano, a union vice president at what was its third annual awards ceremony. “The history that has been written about 9/11 generally does not cover the work that our members in transit had to do that day. That’s why we’re here.”
Bus operators and train conductors helped evacuate Manhattan and many more employees — including iron workers, carpenters and painters — rushed to the scene immediately after the towers fell to assist in sifting through debris. About 2,200 workers were specifically assigned to aid in recovery efforts in the months that followed and hundreds more volunteered, according to the union. Sixteen years later, those workers are battling a host of illnesses and cancers due to their time spent downtown.
“We didn’t even have an assignment. We were told just go, just go and help,” said Luis Barbieri, 66, a retired MTA painter who responded to Ground Zero the night of the attack and spent 16 weeks there. He received his medal from the union Thursday as he battles stage four lung cancer.
“We did everything. We did work on the pile, we swept platforms,” continued Barbieri, from Richmond Hill, Queens. “Everybody came together in New York then — everybody.”
Another award recipient, Elton Gooding, 62, of Queens Village, who operated heavy machinery for the MTA in its track division, was at Ground Zero removing debris immediately after the attacks before moving on to help clear the Rector Street station.
“I’m glad that MTA workers are finally getting the recognition they deserve because we were there right away,” said Gooding, who overcame stage four tonsil cancer. “It was a terrible feeling being there that day. When you were that close to that dust, that stench — it was a stench I’d never want to smell ever again in my life.”
Eleven MTA workers were honored with medals, several of whom were too sick to attend, including James Delman, an MTA locksmith and carpenter who spent more than a year at Ground Zero. Delman has since been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis and is hospitalized awaiting a double lung transplant. His 8-year-old granddaughter, Saddie Delman, accepted his award on his behalf.
“He retired in 2014 and he was supposed to spend the rest of his days enjoying his grandchildren,” said Delman’s daughter-in-law, Laurie Delman, who teared up during the ceremony. “And six months after he retired, he got sick and now he’s bound to a wheelchair or a scooter. This is a man who was totally, totally selfless his whole life. And he doesn’t deserve this.”