In a decision that has rocked the world of emergency services, New York City will not invite police, firefighters and other emergency personnel to ceremonies at Ground Zero marking the tenth anniversary of the terror attack that toppled the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg confirmed the news in a statement saying that the September 11th memorial ceremony would be restricted solely to family members of victims who died on the site.
“While we are again focused on accommodating victims' family members, given the space constraints, we're working to find ways to recognize and honor first responders, and other groups, at different places and times,” said spokesman Andrew Brent.
There has been an a flurry of outrage over the news. Thousands of police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and volunteers risked their own lives trying desperately around the clock, for days, to extricate victims trapped beneath the wreckage of the massive Twin Towers.
The families of the first responders who raced to the scene, and whose lives were forfeit as a result, have themselves responded with emotions ranging from shock to rage. “It's a painful insult for many of the approximately 3,000 men and women [who] risked their lives, limbs and lungs on that monumental day, puncturing another hole in a still searing wound,” reported CNN earlier this month.
Numerous people who worked nearby were later forced to retire on disability due to medical issues related to the toxic air they were breathing that floated around the site and surrounding blocks for months following the attack.
“We were all issued face masks just to be able to work on the 'pile' – the huge wreckage of the buildings – while trying to locate people that might still be alive,” recalled psychotherapist Hana Levi Julian, a first responder, who worked on the scene at Ground Zero. “The firefighters were themselves all in shock – they had a double tragedy on their hands, trying to save the initial victims while trying also to track down and save their buddies.
"Most didn't bother to stop and put on their masks. I was constantly dragging them off the pile, getting them to stop and focus, and forcing them to stay focused, to remember just exactly what it was we were breathing -- and what that would mean for them and their families if they didn't take precautions and wear that mask. Many were ignoring all safety regulations, ignoring their own health problems and working around the clock, often until they themselves collapsed. They just kept digging, desperate to find to people.
“It's odd that the city would exclude these, of all people.”