FBI Plea for 9/11 Responders to Register for Health Benefits

FBI personnel who responded following the 9/11 attacks encourage other 9/11 responders—including thousands within the Bureau—to sign up for health benefits to ensure everyone who worked the expansive crime scenes in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania is plugged into the health resources available to them.

Video Transcript

Witness 1: You got the cell phone?

Witness 2: Yes. my cell phone is right here. I want to get out of here. You don't know where that next plane is.

Kara Sidener: We actually saw the Pentagon get hit. Literally passed in front of us and and hit the Pentagon.

John Nagashima: For a period of time we were evacuated down to the basement of WFO because they didn't know where exactly that third plane was going until we realized it hit the Pentagon.

Sidener: After the Arlington County Fire completed their rescue mission and it turned into a recovery mission, and the Bureau took the lead in that effort, a lot of the debris that was right where the plane had hit was moved out to the north parking lot by large dump trucks. And we sifted through the material.

Nagashima: Obviously when you bring debris in and then spread it out with a dump truck and bulldozers you do get a lot of dust and things that are coming up into the air. I can vividly remember the smells of it the combination of human remains as well as the distinct smell of aircraft fuel.

Sidener: Obviously there's dust. But again, I don't think that at the time—I wasn't focused on, "Oh, this is dusty and it's making me sneeze," or, "It's making me cough." It was, "This is a very important job and I need to pay attention to what I'm doing."

Bradley Bellows: I responded on the third day. We were doing three-day rotations between our offices. On the 110 loop that goes around the Pentagon and 395 that goes right beside it, all of that area, if you had your windows down you would smell the jet fuel. It was still burning.

Nagashima: We were just essentially wearing what we would wear to a normal ERT search, which at the time would have been range pants, t-shirt, jacket—depending on the weather.

I want to say within a week or so after we began the searches through the debris, we were contacted by OSHA. They sent a representative out who came out and said, "You really need to be wearing respirators for this." But at the time we didn't have them issued or fitted. People came out to do some mask fitting on us there and provided us masks but unfortunately they weren't always used. If you can imagine working in an outdoor scene for 12 hours having to wear a mask most of the time, it restricts your breathing and it was difficult, as well as the filters could clog up eventually.

Rankin: While we were in the building or working on the rubble pile but then you come 50 yards away and you're now out of the crime scene and you're taking your equipment off. But everything is still in the air there. I mean…so I think we were safer when we were in the building but I don't know how, you know, in hindsight, how safe we were standing around the building.

Nagashima: Following the actual close of the searches at the Pentagon, a lot of the evidence was moved to a warehouse facility nearby to photo document a lot of that evidence. It was dusty. It's a warehouse environment. There's not a lot of filtration and there wasn't an effort to filter anything. So when you're spreading out the debris, you still have all the dust and the dirt that had been on it when it was collected.

Rankin: We had to open the doors every morning for a while to let the place air out because the smells would build overnight. And so it was just a dark and dingy warehouse It smelled of burnt materials and jet fuel. We really didn't wear masks there. They had some dust masks available and I wore one a couple of days and nobody else was wearing them so I stopped wearing them, which was not a decision I would make again. But I remember being in the warehouse and if you had to blow your nose or anything, everything coming out was black. You were breathing in all that carcinogenic air and the burnt-out air.

Sidener: Stories started coming out, mostly from New York because they had such a large contingent of first responders of New York fire and New York police getting ill. I probably didn't put myself in the same category as those responders because they went in buildings, right? And they were trying to rescue people. I didn't put myself in that same role. I was there after the fact on a very different mission.

Nagashima: I first learned of it when people in our office started getting rare forms of cancer. I remember Bob Roth was one of the first ones that I remember getting cancer and passing away. Then from my recollection, the next was Wesley. Again, it was a very rare form of cancer that he was in a low risk group.

Sidener: Since 9/11, we've had 15 of our own pass away and there are, I think, at least a couple dozen that are now sick.

Bellows: There wasn't a whole lot of talk that these people that we were losing, it was related to their responses to any of the three sites. Then probably about a year ago, I was talking with Jean O'Connor and she had asked me if I had ever enrolled in the World Trade Center Health Program. And I was like, "No, what is that?"

Sidener: I'm part of the programs that are being offered.The World Trade Center health fund as well as the Victim's Compensation Fund, and I will say that even with the personnel that we have lost, it wasn't until another dear friend of mine, who is currently ill, that's when it really struck me as, "Okay. Now I need to ensure that I'm protected in a way" and more so, that my family's protected.

Rankin: I've seen the impacts it’s had on the Bureau family. I've seen the impact it's had on the family members of those who have passed. You know, the earlier you catch a disease, the better chance you have of successful treatment and it's really not that hard to get signed up. All you have to do is get started because they will make sure you get through the rest of it once you get started.

Sidener: I think because we do this job, as all FBI employees do, to think of others before us. We're serving a mission, we're protecting the American people, that we don't necessarily think that we have to protect ourselves, too. And that's vitally important because if we're not here to do the job, then the job's not going to get done.

Rankin: Hearing that you have colleagues who you work with who are sick and that these cancers and other issues from 9/11 had been public, out there in the public, it really kind of makes you start thinking about your own mortality and wondering, I mean I still wonder am I next? Am I going to be the next one to get sick?

Jack Hess: On September 11th, I was at the Washington Field Office. I was supervisor for a terrorism squad. I watched the second plane go into the Trade Center from the CTOC, our command post at Washington Field Office. Then listened to the line when 93 went down. Then I drove out to the Pentagon and spent the rest of the day there. So I wasn't doing any search and rescue.

There were people there doing that. We were actually just trying to just really get a game plan for evidence recovery at the time. The next day I got the coveted 6 p.m to 6 a.m. leads desk position in CTOC. I spent the next several weeks in that position and actually never went back out to the Pentagon again until years later.

Last year, almost incidentally, they found a tumor on my kidney. It was cancerous. So I had the tumor removed. Pathology came back. It came back it was a solitary, encapsulated tumor, early stage. So I'm lucky. Very good prognosis going forward. But I had cancer.

Many times people who knew I was at the Pentagon asked me if I had registered with the World Trade Center benefits program—the screening process that they do. And I hadn't and frankly, my perspective was always—it was 17 years ago. I'm fine. I was there for one day. I'm fine. In reality, those were bad assumptions. Seventeen years is right within the gestation period for the type of tumor that I had and after extensive research they've determined that four hours exposure to the carcinogens in the air that day was plenty to get sick.

I am paying my own medical expenses after insurance coverage. That's another great point - to register before you get sick because they will pay for all of your medical expenses if you are in the program. For me, I'm waiting to be accepted so that they'll pick up my costs going forward.

Don't be afraid to go out and get screened and find that something's wrong with you, whether it's related to 9/11 or not. 17 years is not too long. Eighteen or 19 years probably won't be too long. You can still get sick from this and if you were at one of those scenes or if you were dealing with some of the evidence I think some of those situations were even worse.

If you had exposure back at 9/11 or the days after then please register for the World Trade Center benefit screening program.

Narrator: The attacks of 9/11cannot be confined to one day or even one decade. The effects of September 11th still grab hold today, threatening the health of our nation’s heroes and their families. FBI employees are no different. They, too, are victims of their brave duty to protect the American people.

The World Trade Center Health Program and the Victim Compensation Fund are available to all FBI employees, from special agents to professional staff, to those who work with us and to those who once did. Anyone who served at the 9/11 sites nearby offices, and evidence-processing locations are eligible. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick or well. You deserve to receive these benefits.

Because you served during our nation’s darkest hour. Because you helped the survivors. Grieved for the victims. Helped find those responsible. You responded on scene. Searched through the rubble.
 Manned a command post. Because nothing is as important as your health and your future. Because you’ve earned this. Now, there’s only one question: When will you join?

Group: I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

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