Steve Buscemi On the Continued Toll of 9/11 on Those, Like Him, Who Worked at Ground Zero

Steve Buscemi, who helped to rescue 9/11 survivors in 2001, wrote an essay about the lingering trauma and physical toll the terrorist attack continues to take on first responders

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Steve Buscemi. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty

Twenty years after 9/11, Steve Buscemi is looking back at the toll the disaster site had on those who worked to find survivors.

In an essay published by TIME magazine on Thursday, Buscemi, a former New York City firefighter, wrote of how he answered the call to help his fellow service members at the World Trade Center in 2001.

At Ground Zero, he wrote, the dust from the fallen towers was "more of a nuisance" than the toxic chemicals they would later be considered.

"Pulverized concrete and who-knows-what that clogged a face mask, so fast you worked better without one," Buscemi wrote. "Somebody'd say, 'This is probably going to kill us in 20 years.' "

"Well, it didn't take 20 years," the actor continued. "Debilitating chronic conditions surfaced before the pile was even cleared. Today more people are thought to have died from toxic exposure at the 9/11 site than died that day."

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"It was of course thick with carcinogens," Buscemi added of the overwhelming layer of dust that surrounded the site. "But had the truth been shared with the firefighters, I'm pretty sure they would have kept right on working."

The Fargo actor recalled that being in the frontlines at the World Trade Center "felt good."

"I was on the site for less than a week, but it wasn't until I got home that the magnitude of it all caught up with me," he recalled. "I was already seeing a therapist, and though it was almost impossible to process the enormity of what had happened, just having someone with whom to sit with all the feelings was a consolation. It's not something first responders usually get. Announcing vulnerability is a hard thing for anyone, but especially for people whose primary identity is as a protector."

RELATED VIDEO: The Children of 9/11: 20 Years Later

He continued, " 'Never forget,' everyone said. Some people have no choice. What's surprising is who has to be reminded. Shortly after the attack, Congress created a Victim Compensation Fund to help first responders cope with the aftermath of the day. When the money began to run out, survivors had to launch a lobbying campaign to secure permanent funding, which finally came in 2019. It was an effort led by Jon Stewart and activist John Feal and backed by every former firefighter who cannot laugh without coughing, and every family member who pretends not to notice."

In July 2019, Stewart celebrated with first responders after the Senate passed a bill that extended funds for 9/11 victims, responders and their families almost into the next century.

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On Sunday, Stewart and Pete Davidson will put on a star-studded comedy show supporting 9/11 charities that will take place at New York's Madison Square Garden.

The event, produced by Live Nation, will feature a roster of comedians such as Amy Schumer, Bill Burr, Colin Jost, Colin Quinn, Dave Attell, Dave Chappelle, Jay Pharoah, Jimmy Fallon, John Mulaney, Michael Che, Ronny Chieng, Tom Segura and Wanda Sykes. The event will require all attendees to provide proof that they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

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