As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks passed this weekend, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed laws that would ensure all ‘first responders,’ or those who participated in the World Trade Center (WTC) rescue, recovery, and cleanup, can now access benefits in the retirement system who couldn’t.

The package of legislation works to ensure that members of a public retirement system across various emergency fields will essentially be backdated into the system and guaranteed benefits for their participation on 9/11. 

In particular, law S.7121 adds public safety dispatchers and 911 emergency operators to the definition of first respnoders that played a vital and often overlooked role that fateful day 20 years ago. 

“These laws will help not only first responders who were at the World Trade Center on that terrible day and those who cleaned the site for weeks afterward, but also the emergency dispatchers and communications personnel who keep us safe today,” said Hochul in a statement. “We will ensure they receive the support and benefits they deserve.”  

Back in 2006, the city released scrubbed recordings of about 130 emergency calls made on September 11, 2001, reported The New York Times. 

The 911 operators and fire department dispatchers could be heard on the recordings, advising frantic callers in the WTC towers to stay in the buildings, which was standard practice for high-rise fires at the time and representative of a break down in the city’s crisis management system, said NYT. 

Operators on the calls listened to people die in real-time.

Local 1549 Clerical Administrative Employees President Eddie Rodriquez said he thanks Hochul for signing the WTF first responders communications bill. 

“This action sends a very important message that those who labor under very stressful and traumatic circumstances are recognized, valued and entitled to services that will allow them to do their jobs more effectively with less turnover,” said Rodriquez in a statement.

Since 2001 it’s been well documented that emergency communications operators and dispatchers experience as much posttraumatic stress (PTSD) as other more hands-on first responders, like firefighters, that were also on the frontline of 9/11 terror attacks and have been diagnosed with “9/11 related physical or mental health conditions.”

“Emergency operators and dispatchers are undoubtedly the first responders of first responders, serving at the center of emergency events, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” said Suffolk AME President Daniel C. Levler in a statement.  

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: