Last week an NYPD officer, Dennis Guerra, died in a New York City hospital after being injured on the job. Guerra and his partner were overcome by smoke after they responded to an apartment building fire. Found unconscious by firefighters, Guerra died from his injuries just days later.
On Monday, the day of Guerra’s funeral, legions of New York City police came out to pay their respects. It was the first time since 2011 that a cop had died on the job. Of course it’s inherently dangerous work, but the number of police killed in the line of duty in New York is actually surprisingly low for a city of more than 8 million residents.
In the course of reporting on Guerra’s funeral, I quickly realized that the greatest danger to NYPD officers during the past 13 years has actually been the aftermath of 9/11. Twenty-three NYPD officers died on that fateful morning, but the death toll since then has more than doubled that. In fact, 58 members of the NYPD have died of 9/11-related illnesses.
Police Capt. Dennis Morales was the most recent fatality. He passed away on July 27, 2012.
Morales was among the many law enforcement officials and rescue personnel who toiled at the World Trade Center site to find survivors. Many became extremely ill from the contaminated air and died shortly afterward. Others who have died in the years since, including Morales, contracted illnesses from the toxic materials they inhaled while aiding in the rescue and recovery of others.
Yet there is no sea of blue uniforms on the front page of local newspapers every time a police officer dies of 9/11-related illness. There is little fanfare. Their names are added to a long and ever-growing list that will someday be in the triple digits. Officers like Guerra who died heroically and dramatically in the line of duty trying to help others deserve all the accolades and honors bestowed upon them. But what of those from among the ranks of the NYPD who are dying quietly and slowly?
Notably, it was not until early 2011, almost a decade after 9/11, that the federal government enacted the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. Signed into law by President Barack Obama, the act established what is known as the World Trade Center Health Program, which established a national network of providers for 9/11 survivors and responders who came from all over the country. Though it provides monitoring and treatment services for those with 9/11-related health problems, it’s only guaranteed through 2015.
Whether or not the coverage continues, it begs the question: What more can be done while the NYPD officers are still alive?