SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — A federal compensation fund to help first responders who got ill after going to Ground Zero during 9/11 is in danger of running out of money. That has many Utah firefighters who answered the call to help and got sick worried.
“It’s just not right,” said Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Bob Silverhorne. “We always talk about never forget, you know what I mean, and it seems like we are sort of getting to that point where we are kind of forgetting.”
Silverthorne went to ground zero along with 58 other firefighters with Utah Task Force One in September 2001. Seven years later, Silverthorne noticed a lump under his arm pit. He was later diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“It just hit my like a ton of bricks: I got cancer,” said Silverhorne. He later qualified for the federal government's September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, but now just $2 billion remains out of $7.3 billion funded by congress, and there are still 19,000 unpaid claims. As a result, future payments will be cut by 50 to 70 percent. Lawmakers say they need at least $5 billion to fund the program.
Cody Pilcher’s firefighter father, Robin Pilcher, passed away in April 2016 of cancer. He worked for Unified Fire Authority and was part of Task Force One when he went to Ground Zero. Cody remembers health problems when he returned.
“Everything else seemed normal, but I do know he had this horrible cough — constantly coughing, hacking,” Pilcher said.
He says his dad was required to wear respirators, but they didn’t seem to do enough.
“Even with those respirators, he could smell the burning from the pile coming through," Pilcher said.
Pilcher says his father did receive some funding for medical expenses, but the family is still waiting for compensation after he passed away.
“To me, it’s more about my mother. She no longer has my father around. For her, this is something she needs to survive; she’s young,” Pilcher said.
24 of the 58 firefighters Utah sent to Ground Zero have gotten ill or have been diagnosed with cancer, said Jack Tidwell with the International Association of Firefighters in Utah.
U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand is planning a press conference on Monday in Washington, D.C. to introduce a bipartisan bill to bring about more funding.