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America's New War: Federal Aid Needed for Victims' Families

Aired September 26, 2001 - 10:20   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We take you live now to the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee, which is exploring the psychological impact of the September 11th attacks.

Let's listen in to the testimony. We believe a representative from the New York City Fire Department.

KERRY KELLY, NEW YORK FIRE DEPT.: ... second building collapsed, so once again someone had saved my life.

We soon met up with other members of the department, and as we would find each other it was a feeling as though we were the last survivors on Earth, just to see familiar faces. We worked our way toward the command center, a new one that had been set up, and in this area, again, with this cloud of dust falling down, we were able to see new recruits or reinforcements coming, faces that we knew were safe because they were just arriving, and there was a feeling of gratitude when you would see a face that you knew, knowing that they were not in the original collapse.

It was at that time that I found out that our beloved chaplain, Father Michael Judge, had been killed in the initial collapse. The firefighters had taken his body around the corner to the alter and laid him on the altar, where he stayed during the recovery efforts.

The numbers alone are overwhelming: 343 members are missing, with more than 40 of those now confirmed dead. Over 60 companies have lost one or more members. Some companies have lost 10 to 11 members, roughly half their staff. Over one thousand children have lost a parent, with one infant born two days after this tragedy, and there are more children on the way. We lost officers nearing retirement with 40 years experience,and we lost probationary firefighters in their early stages of career.

The selflessness of these men is what made them heroes, but it also what brings me here to these hearings today to urge your approval of funds to provide for the psychological and counseling needs for our members and their families.

As we get further away from the events of that day, the officers, firefighters, fire marshals, emergency medical technicians, and paramedics who have had to cope with delayed reactions to this experience need our help. From day one, the men and women of the fire department of New York, and their families, who have lost loved ones, have had to endure a tremendous sense of grief.

The good news is that this department's strength has always been a sense of family. It has an created institution that has reached out to recruit new members and time and time again, the sons, the brothers, the cousins, and even the in-laws have joined this department. The connections run deep and they create bonds, they unite our bureaus, our companies, and this department in times of hardship and in times of pain. But in events such as this, our pain is amplified.

At the scene right now retired firefighters are digging for their sons, brothers in grief come to find their third sibling. A fire officer injured in this event barely escapes with his life only to find out that his son is missing.

Over 75 of these missing or dead members have brothers, sons or fathers still in active service. The individual who becomes a firefighter is a very special person. They enter into a calling that sometime defies explanation. As they head toward a call for help, knowing that they are putting themselves in harm's way, they must fight that instinctual desire to save oneself and move on to fight that fire and save a life.

The families that nurture these members are also special because they send these people off to work each day with the belief that they will return safe and sound. The catastrophic losses that we have suffered have created a pain so deep, because every part of our department is effected by these deaths, there are no safe havens. We have lost family at every level. It is the sense of family that will give our department the strength, but we need additional support for the fallen members and their families. This fire fighting family needs the resources to rebuild.

The emotional well being of our department requires intervention to provide stress debriefing, bereavement counseling, and continued psychological support for our members, our families and our children affected by this event.

There is also another reality which weighs heavily on the members of our department. In some ways, the nature of this job changed on September 11th. Their only real enemy in the past has been fire. Now it is terrorism as well. That's a burden which we can all use some help coping with.

The events of the last two weeks remain in many ways surreal. For me and for many others, this was our first glimpse of combat. But for our members, they came in to this encounter trained to rescue and suppress fire, and they did that superbly. They are responsible for the safe evacuation of more than 25 thousand civilians, who would not be alive today without their assistance. They are the true heroes to our department. To us, they are not a faceless group, they are the people, the brothers, the sons, the fathers, the cousins who we continue to mourn, but whose lives we celebrate. Now we must support our members and the families of our members with their immediate emotional needs and provide a structured recovery plan to support their continued psychological well being.

In the first 100 years of our department's history, we filled a wall with the names of fallen firefighters. In a single day, 11th of September, we created a new wall. But the legacy of honor and strength that they left will be the foundation on which we rebuild this department.

I ask for the resources to provide the needed psychological support for our members and their families.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much, Dr Kelly.

KING: Going to take a break there.

We've been listening to testimony from a representative of the New York City Fire Department, talking about the psychological impact. The Senate committee discussing just how the families of the victims and the communities deal with the psychological impact and the trauma of those tragic events of September 11th.

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