9/11 responders gather at Ground Zero; mark passage of Zadroga bill

In the shadows of a rebuilt ground zero, 9/11 first responders gathered early Saturday to acknowledge another hard-won battle that gives thousands permanent health care coverage.

“The cloud of anxiety has been lifted,’’ said John Feal of the Feal Good Foundation which led the battle to secure permanent health care coverage for 9/11 first responders, hundreds of whom have died in the past 14 years from more than 70 various cancers and many who suffer respiratory illness from exposure to toxins emitted from the collapsed Twin Towers.

“They can rest now knowing that they have permanent health care. What beautiful words,’’ said Feal, acknowledging that passage of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act also covers the hundreds of residents and workers who returned to ground zero to live and work after federal officials said the air quality was safe.

Feal was joined by city labor leaders and the New York delegation of Congressional and Senate elected officials who worked on a bipartisan effort to pass the $8.1 billion bill.

“America did not turn their backs to those first responders. This is a great day,’’ Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

Special recognition was given to retired FDNY firefighter Raymond Pfiefer of East Meadow, who was in the hospital. He has been battling cancer and had been in remission.

Pfiefer, though confined to a wheelchair, was one of hundreds of first responders who traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the bill. “Ray came week after week,’’ said Schumer, adding that Pfiefer and others “showed the best of New York.’’

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