The 9/11 First Responders Take Washington D.C.

My bus ride to our nation's capital in the company of heroes

I was invited to ride in the company of heroes.

The invitation came after a television commentary I did last week reminding people of the sacrifice made by those who ran into the hell that was Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 and the days that followed. I specifically reminded members of Congress about the bill to provide health care for those “First Responders” that’s been buried under the debris of mid-term election politics with no one willing to rescue it.

I said, “From Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan I look to our Congress in Washington and ask: Are there no heroes among you?”

Two days later Nancy Pelosi scheduled a vote, and yesterday I was on one of several buses heading to the Capitol with 9/11 survivors who wanted to make certain that America doesn’t forget them. On my bus there were former city workers, firefighters, police and paramedics. All of them are sick. Many of them are dying. Some are carrying a memory of a brother, sister or brother who died from some ungodly disease waiting for this bill to pass.

They have made this bus trip before, only to be turned away by Washington, by the very same politicians who promised that they would never forget.

But on this day, things were different. The First Responders were told not applaud, but they couldn’t help themselves. When the $7.4-billion-dollar compensation bill passed the House by a vote of 268-160, it was met with spontaneous standing ovation in the gallery above. But as I looked at the faces of those standing, there were no smiles only tears.[SIGNUP]

Each person was thinking of a person taken by 9/11, long after the towers burned and fell. When the towers fell, 2,973 died. Since then, 973 First Responders have died from breathing the air they were assured was safe. Years later, toxins and pulverized glass and concrete have been found in the lungs and blood of those who responded to the call to save lives. Since then they have been looking for someone to save them, and for many this vote came too late.

Still, on this one day, Congress was able to rise above politics and do what is right for the country, not just their campaigns.

Now the bill is on to the Senate where the fight will be much tougher. Republicans are promising to hold their line against the bill. It is funded by closing a tax loophole for foreign companies doing business in the United States.

After the vote I joined the First Responders in the shadow of the Capitol dome as they prayed. The prayer was that not one more First Responder has to suffer and die while the Senate debates the cost of caring for heroes. We are fortunate that the First Responders didn’t debate the cost to their health before rushing to the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in our history.

There is at least one 9/11 First Responder in every state in the nation. There are hundreds in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Charlie Giles of Barnegat, New Jersey, was in the mezzanine of the North Tower caring for a fallen firefighter when it collapsed.

Charlie is now bedridden as 9/11 has slowly invaded every organ of his body. He takes 39 different medications a day and has been told he needs a surgery — one he can’t afford and that insurance won’t pay for — to live.

Charlie might not survive the Senate vote on his fate.

I will be on the bus ride with the First Responders when they return to Washington next month for the vote in the Senate. Before the bus ride, advocates will be making their own trips to Washington to visit with Republican Senators to try and win over just one vote.

While I was on the bus, the First Responders got a message from the White House that the President looks forward to signing the bill if it gets to him.

And so yesterday is already in the rear view mirror of the bus.

But the vote did give hope to those who deserve much more — not just the 9/11 First Responders but all of us.

LARRY MENDTE writes for The Philly Post every Monday and Thursday. See his previous columns here. To watch his video commentaries, go to