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First Responders

Photo from Deposit Photos

By Kimberly Brown

The first responders of 9/11 have officially been put on the list as eligible to receive the vaccine this past Monday, but some feel the responders have been left on the back burner throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the coronavirus vaccine slowly becomes more available to Long Islanders, John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation who is also a 9/11 responder and advocate, explained how he thinks compromised 9/11 responders who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other long-term illnesses, should not only receive eligibility but be a priority for the vaccine as well. 

John Feal, a 9/11 responder and advocate, said first responders should be a priority regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. Photo from John Feal

“Yes, absolutely, compromised responders should get priority for the vaccine,” Feal said. “On September 16, [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency head] Christine Todd Whitman said the air was safe to breathe and the water was safe to drink. It created a relaxed atmosphere where people didn’t feel the need to wear their masks anymore. If they weren’t lied to, then I wouldn’t see them as a priority, but definitely see them on the list. However, these men and women were lied to, and they got very sick.”

Weeks ago, Feal began urging members of Congress, Gov. Andrews Cuomo (D) and state senators to help the 9/11 responders who have not been getting vaccinated. 

He doesn’t believe responders should be able to jump the line or take away the vaccine from others who need it. However, there are still affected responders who are sick from two decades ago and are too afraid to leave the house as they are already in danger from their previous illnesses. 

“All of these responders who have debilitating illnesses from the toxins left in the air after 9/11 deserve to be included in the 65-and-up group,” Feal said. “The fact that they haven’t been included, is proof that America has tried to move on from that horrific day.”

Despite what the foundation has been able to accomplish throughout the years, not everything can be accomplished without some help from the federal and state governments. Feal explained how he’s spent more than a decade talking to elected officials who haven’t shown much urgency when it comes to aiding the 9/11 responders in the aftermath they have had to face.

His passion and determination for 9/11 responders is shown through his work. So far, 13 pieces of legislation have been passed in various legislatures, according to him, and a memorial park built in Nesconset. The foundation has also donated over $5 million to 9/11 responders and organizations.  

“My mother raised me to never back down from a fight, but to also be respectful,” Feal said. “When we got our first bill passed we were like the little engine that could, and now 13 bills later we’re like that big engine that did.”

The Port Jefferson EMS team has been on the front lines of the pandemic since its start. The team covers the Mount Sinai, Port Jeff and Belle Terre communities. Photo from Michael Buckley

By Iryna Shkurhan

The work of first responders is indispensable to communities across the country, but during an exhausting year like 2020, it was even more so. They are the first on the scene of emergencies, and time and again put their lives at risk when they respond to all types of 911 calls. With COVID-19, it meant untold hours of difficulty and hardship, but their work helped secure the safety of thousands.

So, this year gave EMTs, paramedics and firefighters the added challenge of directly responding to the invisible killer, COVID-19, as the pandemic took on communities across Long Island, all while still responding to their usual fires and non-COVID related medical emergencies. Leaders and service members, some paid but mostly volunteers, weathered changes such as increased safety precautions and the rising demand for their assistance. 

Wading River Fire Department, made up of about 80 volunteer members, responds to over 1,000 calls every year. When asked if one person stood out this year for their work, Chief Branden Heller agreed that their whole department demonstrated above and beyond work.

“We say the entire department because of all the events that transpired this year,” he said. “Members exposed themselves to more hazardous situations then they were normally used to. Overall, it’s been a very busy year.”

This year his crew of fire and EMS volunteers as well as two paid paramedics overcame a PPE shortage and also dealt with a rise of brush fires, on top of a surge of COVID cases, as emergency calls spiked up in the spring.

Daniel Dongvort, third assistant chief of Smithtown Fire Department, lauded Ann Shumacher, a lieutenant and volunteer EMT for her contributions this year, and throughout her 15-year tenure. She is a mother and full-time nurse, working two jobs, who still found time and energy to devote countless hours to the department whenever she could. 

“She was nonstop helping riding ambulances and helping the community all throughout 2020, but what she’s done over her tenure is probably more telling of her personality and her dedication,” Dongvort said. “Her overall enthusiasm, passion and willingness to come out for the next call, time and time again, is something that’s contagious, especially to the younger members.”

Miller Place EMS Capt. Rob Chmiel, far right, leads a team of volunteers during the department’s 10th annual Stuff a Bus event Nov. 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

Rocky Point Fire Department, with over 130 active members, serves the Rocky Point and Shoreham communities. Volunteer members in the department respond to thousands of EMS and fire calls every year. The department’s David Singer was named an EMS firefighter of the year by Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) in October. 

This isn’t the first time that Singer has been honored for his service to the community. 

As a member of the fire department for over 18 years, he has received his fire company’s Number One Responder Award and the Captain’s Award. 

Roselyn Coleman, an EMT for Riverhead Fire Department and volunteer for Miller Place Fire Department was nominated by Larry Fischer, fire commissioner and a retired EMS. “She’s one of our best,” Fischer said. Coleman has devoted her time to the community this year and showed consistent dedication by splitting her time between both departments.

Port Jefferson Volunteer Ambulance Corps provides emergency medical services and EMS protection to thousands of Long Islanders at all hours of the day. During the height of COVID, volunteers at Port Jeff EMS were working close to 180 hours in a two-week period. Many of the volunteers are students at Stony Brook University, who balance their EMT duties with their academic responsibilities. Nestor Kissoon and Adam Jones are two student-volunteer EMTs who were enrolled in SBU this year. 

“They did not shy away at all through the pandemic, and increased their hours to help meet the needs of the patients and the community,” said Virginia Ledford, administrative director of Port Jeff EMS. “They went beyond what was asked of them this year, and both always maintain a positive attitude.” 

Two full-time paramedics — Rob Stoessel, chief and executive director, and Mike Presta, deputy chief — worked tirelessly this year for their department. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, they stayed at the building for what felt like weeks to make sure everyone was safe, prepared and that  the needs of the community were being met,” Ledford said. 

Miller Place EMS Capt. Rob Chmiel, far right, leads a team of volunteers during the department’s 10th annual Stuff a Bus event Nov. 20. Photo by Kyle Barr

John Quimby, chief of Mount Sinai Fire Department, was commended by his first assistant chief, Randy Nelson. Quimby’s first year as chief came at the same time as COVID, and such a time required making tough but necessary decisions to prioritize the safety of his team. This year was especially difficult for the department after a few members passed away.

“Ensuring that in everything that we do, the members’ safety and health has always been paramount in all the decisions that he’s made,” Nelson said of the chief. 

Quimby made the decision to halt volunteer training in April, which Nelson said was crucial to the department, especially to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The chief also made the decision to conduct all meetings virtually. 

“It makes me feel a lot better about the work that we do, and a lot more comfortable given the situation,” Nelson said. “It’s an uncomfortable situation to be in, but his decision-making through it all has certainly made it a bit easier to accept.” 

Stony Brook Fire Department Chief Pete Leonard was also named an EMS firefighter of the year, this time by county Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) for her legislative district. Leonard has dedicated his time and energy to the fire department for over 35 years and has been a crucial asset to the Stony Brook community, this year especially.

In addition to his duties as chief, he also works as a full-time paramedic with Stony Brook University Hospital, where he is the first to provide care for critically ill patients being transported to hospitals. He continued to work throughout the pandemic as his department received a massive 10% in calls in the spring. 

Leonard described managing both responsibilities as “a delicate balancing act” where he worried about his health and safety on the job as a paramedic, and then came home worrying about the safety of his 75-member department.  

“There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them,” he said. “And there isn’t a thing there they wouldn’t do for their community. Between our volunteer and paid staff, they have been exemplary and beyond words.”

He also described the cooperative relationship between all the fire departments on Long Island as they endured shortages of PPE. If one department was low on supplies, another department would chip in to offer theirs. They reached out to other departments to help out whenever necessary and, because of their cooperation, no department has had to go without PPE this year.

“It was a very cooperative relationship, and really showed the true spirit of what it is to work in this industry, and work together,” Leonard said. 

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Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Museum
The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport will thank First Responders, Frontline Workers, and their families by offering them complimentary admission on Saturday and Sunday, October 24 and 25, from noon to 5 p.m. “We salute the brave men and women who make sacrifices and face danger every day to respond to emergencies, work the front lines, and keep us safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Elizabeth Wayland-Morgan, executive director of the Vanderbilt.
(This includes police and firefighters, emergency medical technicians, teachers and school employees, utility and healthcare workers, cashiers in grocery and general merchandise stores, truck drivers, and people who work in food-processing, maintenance, and agriculture.)

“We’re offering free admission because these people are our neighbors and they provide essential services,” Wayland-Morgan said. “They risk physical injury and exposure to toxic substances and to the coronavirus,” she said. “It’s hard on their spouses, families and children. A fun day at the Vanderbilt is one way to thank them.”

Guests will be asked for ID cards or proof of affiliation.

The Hall of Fishes, the Vanderbilt marine museum, is open as are the collections galleries and the wild-animal dioramas. The Mansion living quarters remain closed. The Reichert Planetarium will remain closed until New York State permits theaters to reopen.

For more information, visit www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

Image from CDC

The number of fatalities from coronavirus Covid-19 more than doubled in the last day, as four more people died, including three people in their 90s in the Peconic Landing Medical Facility.

At the same time, positive tests for the respiratory virus have reached 459.

“Everything we’re doing is to keep that number down and keep it as low as possible,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said on a conference call with reporters.

The positive tests include a member of the Suffolk County Police Department who works in the Highway Bureau, as well as a second member of Bellone’s staff, Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen. The positive test means that Bellone, who was under voluntary quarantine, is now under mandatory quarantine at his home.

Bellone described the police officer as a male in his 50s who lives in Nassau County. The officer is expected to make a full recovery, he said.

The county executive reiterated the importance for the community to stay home and remain isolated as much as possible.

“Young people may not believe the virus is something that impacts them,” he said, but it has locally as well as nationally.

Indeed, among those with a positive test for the virus, 50 of them are in their 20’s, while 50 are in their 30’s. About half of all the infections are among people who are in their 40’s and 50’s.

To reduce the spread of the virus, Bellone yesterday closed all playgrounds in county parks, even as the parks remain open.

“We close the playgrounds because what we found is that it’s very difficult to keep kids apart,” Bellone said.

Health officials urge people to maintain social distancing of over six feet in those public spaces.

The county also closed dog parks because of the crowding at those areas as well.

“People can bring dogs to parks on leashes and are able to be out there in the open space while practicing social distancing with their pets,” Bellone said.

Even as the new Stony Brook University mobile testing site has increased the ability to test, residents has met some of the pent=up demand to understand the extent of the presence of the virus in their areas. Suffolk, like so many counties others across the nation, is still confronting a potential shortage of supplies of personal protective equipment.

“This has been challenging,” Bellone said. “A lack of supplies or PPE is close behind the testing in something we’ve been lacking on a national basis.”

Bellone’s office is working to accept donations of personal protective equipment in industries that have excess equipment that they can spare. The priority remains to protect people at the front lines in this battle, the county executive urged.

Bellone encouraged residents to go to Newsday’s web site, newsday.com/business, which alerts customers and the community that some businesses remain open. In light of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to reduce businesses to essential services starting on Sunday, those businesses would need to meet that stringent threshold.

Supermarkets have created morning hours when seniors can do their shopping. Seniors can shop at the following morning stores during the following hours: Dollar General, from 8 to 9 a.m., Stu Leonard’s, from 730 to 8, Stop & Shop, from 6:30 to 7:30, Uncle Giuseppe’s, from 7 to 8, Target from 8 to 9 on Wednesday, Giunta’s Meat Farms, from 6:30 to 7:30 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Walmart, from 6 to 7 on Wednesday.

Bellone addressed concerns about empty shelves at some of these stores. He assured the public that supplies remain robust and that some shelves are empty as residents horde items they are concerned might not be available during the crisis.

“There is no need to be concerned,” Bellone said. “Critical products will be there on the shelves. I would encourage people not to buy items in bulk.”

In the realm of child care for first responders, Bellone said first responders and health care providers can reach out to the Child Care Counsel of Suffolk to schedule care for their children. The phone number is 646-926-3784.

In the meantime, Suffolk County has reached out to retired first responders and health care providers as the anticipated increase in demand, and potential for more positive tests among those helping the public, triggers the need for more help.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Bellone said. “There’s no part of this government that’s not involved in this operation or response. It’s like calling in the reserves. People will need to step up.”

Meanwhile, Stony Brook University Hospital said in a release it currently had enough personal protective equipment to meet the needs of every staff member coming into contact with a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19.

The hospital is working to find additional supplies. Hospital officials expect supplies of personal protective equipment to become strained as the pandemic evolves and is reviewing alternative practices to protect the staff.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory canceled or postponed all programs that invite visitors to campus. The research center has also restricted education, research and administrative operations.

Employees are required to work remotely or adjust their schedules if they support mission-critical research or facilities, to lower the number of people on site. The lab expects the restrictions to last for at least the next month.

The DNA Learning Center has canceled education programs starting March 16 for middle and high school programs on Long Island, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester County. Public programming including campus tours, lectures and concerts have also been canceled since March 8.

First responders from SCPD and Terryville FD helped deliver a baby at a Port Jefferson Station home. Photo by Dennis Whittam

By Anthony Petriello

A miracle occurred in the early morning hours Aug. 9 as first responders helped deliver a baby girl at a Port Jefferson Station home. Sixth Precinct Officers Jon-Erik Negron, Brian Cann and Karl Allison responded to a 911 call on Lisa Lane. Upon arrival, they found a full term expectant mother, Keri Fort, in active labor and in need of assistance.

“The Suffolk County PD was the first to get to my house and got us all calmed down-it was kind of a crazy scene as you might imagine,” Fort said in a Facebook message. “They were a perfectly well-oiled machine with little talking to each other. They all knew what to do without a word, concentrating on me and telling me what to do next. My mother dialed 911 at 2:20 a.m. and sweet little Stella was born at 2:44 a.m.”

According to police, Fort’s water had broken already when they arrived, and her contractions were approximately five minutes apart. Shortly after, Terryville Fire Department paramedics Kevin Bader, Gina Brett, and Chris Meyers arrived on the scene to assist and take control of the situation.

“It was a collaborative effort,” Cann said.

Working together, officers and paramedics were able to deliver the baby girl, named Stella Blue Fort, in the residence at approximately 2:44 a.m., and transfer the mother and baby girl to the St. Charles Hospital Labor and Delivery unit by ambulance in good health. Fort and her daughter have since been released from the hospital and returned home.

This is not the first time Negron has had to spring into action to help bring a baby into the world while on duty. Last August, Negron helped save a newborn in Mount Sinai after a mother gave birth unexpectedly at home, and the baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. In June, Negron was named the baby’s godfather by the parents.

Callahans Beach in Fort Salonga. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

News of plans to construct a cell tower on a town-owned Fort Salonga beach is getting a warm reception from first responders and rescue workers.

Plans for a new cell tower at Callahans Beach has public safety officials across the Town of Smithtown excited that it may increase response times and stop misplaced emergency calls to Connecticut.

“Say you’re down at the bluff, sometimes your 911 call would go across the Sound to Connecticut because it’s the easiest and quickest line of sight,” Chief John Valentine, director of Smithtown’s public safety department said. “Most of the departments [in Connecticut] know to transfer them to 911 in Suffolk County, but those time frames, although only miniscule, are valuable time to any 911 emergency.”

This thing is imperative because it’s going to complete communications we need for our public safety issues, which includes everything — fire, ambulance, police…”
– Ed Wehrheim

The new cell tower is to be built in a corner of theupper parking area, adjacent to the campground portion of the beach property, according to Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R). Every cell tower erected in the township has the Town of Smithtown’s public safety network built into it, and this new cell tower will complete the triangulation created by existing towers at the Landing Country Club in Smithtown and the Smithtown Public Safety building on Maple Avenue. 

Valentine said that there are dead zones in terms of public safety communications in the Kings Park Fire Department area, in Nissequogue and the Village of the Head of the Harbor hamlets.

Wehrheim said that completing this cell tower will enable first responders at all levels to better react to emergencies.

“This thing is imperative because it’s going to complete communications we need for our public safety issues, which includes everything — fire, ambulance, police — all our public safety people will all be on that tower,” the supervisor said.

The Smithtown Town Board voted unanimously at its June 12 meeting to sign the lease agreement between the town and Propagation Solutions Inc., for Site Tech Wireless  LLC to install the approximately 150-foot cell tower. Valentine said the planning department still has to go through procedures before installation can begin.

The town’s public safety director said the effort to build a third cell tower has been in the works for the past four years, and has been held up in the process of getting approval from both town and state entities as it is being built on parkland.

If the chief gets on scene to say there’s an issue like a cardiac arrest, and he can’t reach the dispatcher to relay that information, it might be life threatening.”
– Peter Laura Sr.

“We’re anxious to get it done, Valentine said. “The Kings Park Fire Department and all our other users on our network are anxious to get it in place.”

Kings Park Fire Commissioner Peter Laura Sr. said that the area of Fort Salonga is notoriously bad for radio reception because of its hilly landscape.

“It’s of great importance to us, we need to be able to talk,” Laura said. “If the chief gets on scene to say there’s an issue like a cardiac arrest, and he can’t reach the dispatcher to relay that information, it might be life threatening. This tower would hopefully solve the radio communication problem.”

Valentine said that he has not heard any concerns or complaints regarding the installation of a new cell phone tower. 

“We have been met with nothing but encouragement to get this done from both public safety interests and residents,” he said.

Pete Hans, the principle planner for the Town of Smithtown, said that the planning department must still complete a local waterfront revitalization program review, which if everything goes according to plan will be presented at the July 17 town board meeting. In the best case scenario the cell tower should be presented for approval to the board by September.

Dredging crew rescues five town employees from frigid waters after boat capsized

Gibson & Cushman dredgers Keith Ramsey and Che Daniels accept proclamations for helping rescuing five Town of Smithtown employees including Joseph Link, on right. Photo by Kevin Redding.

By Kevin Redding

A Bay Shore-based dredging crew sprung into action while working on the Nissequogue River in December when a boat capsized, hurling five Town of Smithtown employees into the frigid waters. For their heroic efforts, the seven-man crew, responding medical professionals and first responders, were honored by Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) during a special ceremony at town hall Jan. 30.

“A first responder’s primary duty is to protect all others before self,” Wehrheim said before presenting plaques to the heroes. “But, when unforeseen conditions put the lives of first responders at risk, who protects them?”

I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”

— Joseph Link

It started out as a routine day for three bay constables and two parks employees as they steered their vessel around the head of the river Dec. 12 removing buoys. While attempting to pull a seventh buoy from the water, however, a rogue wave came crashing in from Long Island Sound. It flooded the boat, overturning it in a matter of seconds. All five employees struggled to swim the 40-feet to shore against the rough current.

“I couldn’t get anywhere, the waters were way too strong,” said Joseph Link, of one of the rescued employees. Link said he wasn’t wearing a life jacket at the time as it obstructed his work. “I was just trying to keep my head above the surface.”

Sgt. Charles Malloy, a senior bay constable, said he faced different dangers when he was knocked overboard.

“I was swimming away from the rear of the boat because the motors were still engaged and the propellers were still spinning and within arm’s reach,” Malloy said.

Luckily, members from Gibson & Cushman Dredging Company were about 500 yards away when the accident occurred, setting up equipment by the river’s bluff. Once they saw the boat capsize, the crew acted quickly.

“We just grabbed some lines or whatever else we could find and started throwing them out to pull them toward us,” said dredger Keith Ramsey.

They yanked four of the five stranded employees onto their boat. One member, Dan Landauer, managed to swim back to shore on his own.

“It was just our reaction,” said dredger Che Daniels. “We saw that people were in the water. The water was cold, like 40 degrees [Fahrenheit]. The wind was blowing. We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”

Upon reaching the shore, Kings Park volunteer firefighters and Kings Park EMS responders rushed to the scene. Two men were treated for hypothermia and exposure. All were transported to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center and out of the hospital within an hour without any lasting injuries.

We were just doing what we would do for anybody on our crew if something were to happen like that.”

— Che Daniels

Paul Taglienti, director of emergency medical service at St. Catherine’s, was honored during the ceremony. He said his staff’s job had been about 95 percent done for them. “This was a circumstance where I think everything was done pretty much ideally,” Taglienti said. “They were rescued very quickly and we just kept an eye on them to make sure everyone was OK.”

Wehrheim was joined by town council members Lisa Inzerillo (R) and Tom McCarthy (R), to present proclamations to all seven members of Gibson & Cushman — Daniel Engel, Daniels, Michael Lake, Jordy Johnson, Joseph Johnson, Ramsey and Peter Wadelton — although only Ramsey and Daniels were on hand to accept them. 

“I was glad when I heard they helped out, but I also would expect that from them,” said Matthew Grant, supervisor of the dredging crew’s project. “If something happens, we help out. Not many people are out on the water at that time of year, so it was a good thing we were there.”

Those rescued echoed the sentiment.

“If it wasn’t for the dredge crew — use your imagination,” Malloy said. “The outcome would’ve been far more tragic.”

Landauer also expressed his gratitude.

“There wasn’t a hiccup in anything they did, they saw us and boom — they jumped right on it,” he said. “I hope they never have to do it again, but I’m very glad that they were there that day.”

Firemen salute the American flag during the East Northport Fire Department's 9/11 memorial on Sunday, Sept. 11. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Rich Acritelli

It was 15 years ago this week, Sept. 11, 2001, that Americans were putting their children on school buses and going about their daily routines when our nation was attacked. Terrorists boarded and later commandeered passenger planes that were fully loaded with fuel and flew them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The terrorists that took over Flight 93 originally planned to strike the Capital building or the White House, but cries of “Let’s roll” rang out, and the passengers fought back against the perpetrators.

While Mike Piazza of the New York Mets was an exceptional baseball player, he also served as a leader for his team and the community, and even helped with a humanitarian drive that was based out of Shea Stadium to aid the recovery workers. He spoke about that day during his Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech in July.

“To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul.”

— Mike Piazza

“Sept. 11, 2001 is a day that forever changed our lives. To witness the darkest evil of the human heart and how it tore many loved ones from their families will forever be burned in my soul,” the transplanted New Yorker, who was born in Philadelphia, said. “But from tragedy and sorrow came bravery, love, compassion, character and, eventually, healing. Many of you give me praise for the two-run home run on the first game back on Sept. 21 to push us ahead of the rival Braves. But the true praise belongs to police, firefighters, first responders, who knew they were going to die, but went forward anyway.”

The New York Yankees, who were in pursuit of another World Series title, visited firehouses, and players had tears in their eyes moments before they played in games.

Today, Americans are watching a hotly contested election. It was 15 years ago that many citizens put aside their political beliefs to be unified against a common enemy. Rescue crews traveled from all over the nation to head toward the remains of the World Trade Center, yellow ribbons were tied on trees across the United States and the undeniable will of our people was quickly demonstrated to the world. While it seems like yesterday that we watched these horrific events occur, there are current high school students that may have lost a parent that day. It is these boys and girls who were so young that they do not easily recollect their loved ones that were amongst the almost three thousand Americans killed tragically. This is not just another historic day to briefly remember — it is still with our citizens on a daily basis. Our children have lived under the heightened security at our airports, infrastructure centers like Pennsylvania Station and the George Washington Bridge, and during major sporting events. During every home game since 9/11, the New York Yankees invite veterans and rescue workers to be honored, as both teams line up to listen to “God Bless America.”

Our North Shore communities were a considerable distance from the destruction of the World Trade Center towers. But unflinchingly, local rescue and support workers from these towns traveled every day and spent hours away from their families to be at ground zero. May we never forget the sacrifices of members of these numerous agencies that are currently suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. It should also be remembered that while our North Shore towns are miles from the city, these communities and schools lost residents and graduates as a result of these acts of terrorism. Thank you to all our rescue workers and military branches that continue to protect the security and values of the United States, at home and abroad.

Fire departments, town and village governments, and schools all participated in memorial events to commemorate the lives lost during Sept. 11, 2001. Residents came to show support, as well as help read off the names of those who perished, lay wreaths and take a moment to honor the American lives lost, and all the first responders and civilians who helped save lives at Ground Zero.

 

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Jon Stewart, Raymond Pfeifer and John Feal talk after the ceremony honoring those lost on and after Sept. 11, 2001. Photo from John Feal

To the wall, the names were new, but to those at 9/11 Responders Remembered Park, they brought with them years of courage and heroism. All eyes were on the park on Saturday as 61 more names were etched into its wall of heroes, honoring those who paid the ultimate price for their efforts in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The event was packed with first responders, their families, lawmakers and advocates, including advocate and first responder John Feal of Nesconset’s FealGood Foundation and comedian Jon Stewart.

“This park was built … to serve the 9/11 community with grace, dignity and humility,” Feal said to the crowd before the new names were read aloud. “I hope this park will help tell the stories of our nation’s greatest resources: its citizens, both uniformed and nonuniformed.”

Feal and several members of what they called the 9/11 community have descended upon the Nesconset park every year since it was established in 2009 to add names to the wall of heroes, paying tribute to those who have died on or after that horrific day. Martin Aponte, president of the North Shore park, reminded the crowd that they were not there to mourn, but to reflect, remember and recognize the stories behind the names on the wall behind him.

Jon Stewart and John Feal observe the wall of heroes at the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park. Photo from John Feal
Jon Stewart and John Feal observe the wall of heroes at the 9/11 Responders Remembered Park. Photo from John Feal

“To maintain this park is the least we can do for those who have served our nation with distinguished honor, courage and sacrifice,” he said. “We are here only to serve a fragile fraternity of heroes who come here to rest and join their brothers and sisters. Their story is told through this park.”

Feal, along with Stewart and New York City firefighter Raymond Pfeifer, used the ceremony as a means to celebrate a recent legislative victory they helped accomplish nationwide after years of pushing Congress to renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, which supports first responders whose illnesses are linked to their efforts on 9/11. For his tireless advocacy on the subject, Pfeifer was awarded an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol along with a golden firefighter’s axe on a plaque.

Pfeifer, who spent eight months on top of the debris pile of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, has stage-four cancer and spoke from a wheelchair about the collaborative efforts it took to overcome that day.

“Today is a good day. It’s sad, but nobody gets out alive. Anytime you can tell a story about [first responders] that’s a good thing,” he said.

With a heavy-hearted expression on his face, Stewart read each of the names that were added to the wall that day in somber tone. The tolling of a bell followed each name. After his remarks, the comedian and former host of “The Daily Show” remarked on his time on the front lines of advocating for first responders’ benefits. He spoke to inspire those in attendance against the fear of terrorism, saying “we win” because of America’s unending resource of courage.

“I’m always humbled when I’m in the company of Ray and John, and all the other responders,” he said. “I can never in my life repay the debt that you all gave to not just me, but to the city and to the country. We owe you, and we will continue to owe you forever.”