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Congressman Dan Donovan

Representing the 11th District of New York


Donovan Meets with Retired Firefighter, Calls for Permanent Extension of "Zadroga Act"

October 13, 2015
Press Release
Robert Serra helped dig through rubble at Ground Zero, now relies on medical benefits from the Zadroga Act to treat his health conditions

Staten Island, NY—October 13, 2015....Congressman Dan Donovan (NY-11) today spoke with retired firefighter Robert Serra about Serra’s heroism in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks. Serra rushed to lower Manhattan on September 11, the morning after serving his last day at the Fire Academy. In the days and weeks following the attack, he spent many hours at Ground Zero exposed to the contaminants that have caused health complications and death in tens of thousands of first responders. [Note: Serra’s story in his owns words is copied below.]

Congressman Donovan said, “Robert Serra is a hero. As a 21-year old kid fresh out of the Fire Academy, he risked his life to help others. As he sifted through the rubble, marking body parts along the way, Mr. Serra couldn’t have imagined he was putting his future life – now a married man with three children – in jeopardy.”

Serra, who has several health conditions directly related to his service in 2001, now relies on medical benefits from the Zadroga Act to fund his health care. He is one of more than 6,700 such beneficiaries in the 11th Congressional District – the largest concentration of any district in the country. On September 30, 2015, portions of the Zadroga Act technically expired, though the program has enough resources to continue uninterrupted into 2016. In a matter of months, though, volunteers and first responders will stop receiving benefits unless Congress extends the Zadroga Act.

Congressman Donovan continued, “It would be a national disgrace if one hero passes away for lack of medical treatment, or one hero’s children can’t pay for college because the family went broke from medical costs. Time doesn’t erase our moral imperative to cover the medical expenses of sick first responders and volunteers – it is an extension of the costs of the attack. There is no excuse for further delay. Let’s pass a permanent extension – the program should end when every rescue worker and recovery volunteer is cared for.”

Donovan cosponsored the Zadroga Act within minutes of taking office in May, and has partnered with Senators Gillibrand and Schumer and Congressman King to fight for a permanent extension

Mr. Serra’s Story (In His Own Words)

I've lived in New York my entire life. While Staten Island has always been my home, I attended high school at the Northwood School in Lake Placid before attending Hobart College in Geneva. I was sworn in to the Fire Academy in July of 2001, two months after graduating college. My last day of the Fire Academy was 9/10/01. I was just 21 years old.

On the morning of 9/11/01, I was en route to FDNY hockey team tryouts. Upon seeing what happened at the WTC from the Verrazano Bridge, I immediately went home to grab my bunker gear. I called my older brother, who is also on the job, and he instructed me to go to Rescue 5 on Clove Road. From there, we were transported by bus to the Ferry Terminal. While on the bus, as a young priest was reading us our last rights (just in case), I slowly pulled the tags off of my brand new bunker gear.

After we arrived at the Ferry, I heard an announcement looking for people with O negative blood. As I am O negative, I felt obligated to give a pint. When all was said and done I was put on a bus and driven to lower Manhattan. After just a short time operating at the disaster site my nose began bleeding profusely out of both nostrils. It seemed to be hours before I could get the bleeding under control. With my limited energy/blood supply I began helping by stretching hose lines, searching for survivors, and marking body parts. I stayed on-scene until the next morning, when a Chief ordered me to make my way to the Ferry.

I returned to the site several times over the next couple of months, but for the most part my captain tried to keep me working on the truck so that I might learn how to fight fires. However, my exposure to the toxic dust was not limited to my time at Ground Zero. Every day the group that was sent there would come back completely covered in dust, covering the entire apparatus floor. I would also say that it would be a couple of years before the fire trucks were dust free.

I had nose bleeds every day for a few years before having my first nasal surgery in 2005. While that surgery slowed them down it did not stop them completely. I had a second surgery in 2010 to remove dozens of polyps from my nose and sinuses. I went back to work for two years after the surgery, but the amount of scar tissue left me unable to filter out smoke, dust, and allergens. I had over 20 sinus infections in that time and by the end even antibiotics did little to help. A few times I ended up in the ER with temperatures over 105.

In the time since my last surgery I have also been diagnosed with GERD, acid reflux, IBS and thyroid nodules. All of these illnesses have been attributed to the toxic dust. I have also been treated for PTSD through the WTC health program. While I have many issues going on, the worst of all is the intense pressure and pain in my sinuses that I suffer on a daily basis. Most days when I walk out my front door it feels like I got punched in the face. Some days I'm able to fight through it but many days I'm forced to stay indoors or even in bed. I have a hard time driving because of this and even worse than that I can't go outside to play with my kids.

At the moment I consider myself lucky that this is all that I'm dealing with. However, experts say that asbestosis and related cancers take 20 years to begin showing symptoms. That fact, coupled with the early onset of all of the other 9/11 related illnesses I am dealing with, leaves with me with little hope for a long life. I have three children under 7 and a wife who already lost her father on 9/11. It is for them that I fight for this bill so that I may be in their lives for as long as I possibly can be.