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9/11

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John Feal speaks at an event advocating for first responders in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. File photo

The definition of hero is a person who is admired, or idealized, for courage. And we can’t think of a more courageous act than stepping up and putting others first in the aftermath of a tragedy like the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.

When the dust had settled on that horrific day, elected leaders stood hand-in-hand with our first responders, whether they were firefighters, police officers or just volunteers. The narrative was that we would honor their sacrifices and do whatever it took to back them up, long after the debris was removed.

And yet here we are, 14 years later, making them wait to see whether the government will have their backs when they need it most. Never forget, right?

This week, Nesconset native John Feal headed to Washington, D.C., alongside other heroic first responders from across the Island, state and country to call on Congress to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Originally approved five years ago, the legislation helped provide health care and programs to more than 33,000 of our first responders and their families because of complications stemming from their efforts at Ground Zero. But that legislation is slated to expire next month, and it’s not clear whether it will be renewed.

What happened to doing whatever it took to support our heroes? It is shameful to have this same discussion every few years, once legislation expires, because all that does is turn these people into political bargaining chips. To us, that doesn’t seem like a worthy reward for their sacrifices.

It’s time to take permanent action so people like Feal and the many others who worked alongside him know that we will have their backs — because they had ours when we needed it most.

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

Community members gathered to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States. During memorial events across Suffolk County, ceremonial shots were fired, victims’ names read aloud and flowers laid down.

Members of the Setauket Fire Department participate in the annual ceremony in memory of those lost on Sept. 11, 2001. The event is a cherished annual event on the North Shore. File photo by Barbara Donlon

By Giselle Barkley & Victoria Espinoza

After 14 years, the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, have not been forgotten, by residents across the North Shore.

In honor of those who lost their lives on 9/11, this Friday, from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m., the Setauket Fire Department is holding their annual 9/11 Memorial service. The department is holding the ceremony at September 11 Memorial Park on the Setauket Fire Department’s Nicolls Road Station.

The East Northport Fire Department will also be hosting its 13th annual memorial service this Friday, with two separate events, both being held at the 9th Avenue side of the Larkfield Road firehouse at the 9/11 Memorial Monument on Friday, Sept. 11. The morning ceremony will begin at 9:45 a.m., and the evening candlelight vigil begins at 8 p.m.

Both ceremonies are set around an eight-foot, 8,000 pound steel beam from Ground Zero that the department received from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. During the ceremony, firefighters will read victims’ names, and the sirens will sound at the time of the collapse of the twin towers. The Suffolk County Police Department’s helicopter will do a flyover during the ceremony, and the Northport High School Tights will sing the national anthem and “America, the Beautiful.”

The Commack school district will also be presenting a night of remembrance, also for the 14th year in a row, and the theme this year is patriotism, remembrance and resiliency. The ceremony will be held at the Commack High School football fields at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 11. Music will be performed by J.D. Leonard, and honorary guest speakers will attend. This year, there will also be a dedication of the three survivor trees planted in their memorial garden.

Residents, or anyone who wishes to pay their respects, are free to attend this candlelight ceremony. According to Dave Sterne, district manager of the Setauket Fire District, the department will serve light refreshments at the event.

“When it comes to September 11th tragedies, it’s one of the worst things to befall the United States of America, and it was in our own backyard,” Sterne said.

According to Sterne, in light of Sept. 11, the fire department’s park was established and dedicated on Sept. 11, 2004. The park was originally designed by Emily Quinn, who was a Ward Melville High School student at the time. Sterne said Quinn implemented steel beams from the World Trade Center into her design of the park. Additional features were added over time, including lights and a granite wall, which illustrates the twin towers and shows the names of those who lost their lives 14 years ago.

“Unfortunately, in the fire service, it’s a close knit community, and we all knew people that unfortunately [lost their lives].” Sterne said

The Setauket Fire Department’s ceremony is one of several ceremonies responders on Long Island are dedicating to those who died on 9/11. This Friday, Sept. 11, the Port Jefferson Fire Department is holding its annual 9/11 memorial ceremony at 9:30 a.m. on Maple Place in Port Jefferson. Rocky Point Fire Department also scheduled its ceremony on Sept. 11. Residents can attend the service from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Shoreham, next to the Firehouse. Locals can also go to 9/11 Responders Remembered Park in Nesconset at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12, for a reading of the names.

John A. Meringolo, first assistant chief of the Stony Brook Fire Department said his team of heroes would be doing its part to make sure the memories of those lost live on.

“We continue to be mindful of the sacrifices made on that day and believe that it is important that a memorials take place so such events remain in the memory of all those who continue to benefit from living in a free society,” he said.

While many lost their lives on 9/11, Sterne acknowledged that there are also people, including responders, who are still suffering from the injuries or health complications they acquired from 9/11. Regardless of whom someone is remembering, Sterne said it’s simply important to remember him or her.

“It’s important for ourselves and future generations, as time goes by, that we remember to remember,” Sterne said. “And [that we] gather in a beautiful place that was dedicated just for this reason, and that they respect those that were lost, and continue to be lost, as a result of that tragedy.”

Huntington Town will also be holding a small ceremony at Heckscher Park at noon this Friday, Sept. 11.

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The latest 100 names are read off before being unveiled as part of Nesconset’s own memorial wall in honor of those lost after lending helping hands in the aftermath of September 11 in 2001. Photo by Jenni Culkin

By Jenni Culkin

There was not a dry eye in the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park as the greater North Shore community came together to commemorate the lives of first responders who died from September 11-related illnesses.

The Nesconset park, at the intersection of Smithtown Boulevard and Gibbs Pond Road, was dedicated to victims of the horrendous terrorist attack and was crowded with hundreds of residents and families as 100 new names were added to its memorial wall on May 16.

“They are the reason we get out of bed,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, who acted as the master of ceremonies. “Thank you for allowing us to serve you.”

The wall already had more than 500 names, but those who spoke at the somber ceremony did so with the same sort of hurt felt when the attack first occurred in 2001.

“Like everyone here today, I pale in comparison to those who are going on the wall,” Martin Aponte, president of the park, said during the ceremony with a voice full of emotion.

The service featured various patriotic musical performances and words from elected officials.

“We thank you, from the bottom of our hearts,” said Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), “I commit to you that I will always stand watch over this park.”

Elected officials from neighboring towns joined the Nesconset community in honoring the lives of the 9/11 responders.

“We are truly a country of greatness and heroes,” said Legislator Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore).

Toward the end of the ceremony, the sons of fallen responders read the names that were going to be etched into the memorial wall. Each name was followed by a solemn bell toll.

Shortly after the names were all read, the sun started to show itself above the memorial park. Feal and those who played active roles in leading the ceremony made it very clear during and after the ceremony that they were grateful for the amount of people attending the ceremony despite the rainy weather.

“It’s humbling to see this many people come out,” Feal said. “For people to withstand Mother Nature truly showed the American spirit.”

Aponte said there are trees among the park’s foliage that are direct descendants of a tree that survived the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11. One of these trees was given to the Hauppauge Fire Department and another was also given to the Nesconset Fire Department as tokens of appreciation for each department’s contribution to the park.

A memorial ceremony is usually held, and is expected to continue to be held, every May during Memorial Day week and every September during the anniversary of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

The park has plans to eventually recognize and honor the service dogs that have passed away due to 9/11-related illnesses, Aponte said. There are also plans to place signs on the Long Island Expressway that lead travelers to the park from nearby exits but there are no definite dates at this time.

The park’s upkeep and development is dependent upon donations that can be made on the park’s website, which is at respondersremembered.com. The Greater Smithtown Chamber of Commerce is also going to be hosting a golf outing to benefit the park in early August.

“We built this park so history does not get distorted,” Aponte said.