Reservoir Dogs actor Steve Buscemi has said it ‘felt good’ to be a responder at Ground Zero as he reflected on the 9/11 attacks.
Despite becoming well known across the world for his various acting roles, Buscemi proceeded his rise to fame by working as a New York firefighter in the 1980s.
He left the fire service after serving for four years on FDNY Engine 55, but following the events of September 11, 2001, he grabbed his old firefighting gear and travelled to Ground Zero to offer his support.
The actor reflected on his time at the scene in an essay published in TIME this week, ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, explaining how ‘instead of water going up, it was rubble coming down’ and describing it as ‘disturbing’ when a body bag was passed down from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
Buscemi recalled people saying the dust in the area was ‘probably going to kill [responders] in 20 years’, indicating that time frame was optimistic as ‘debilitating chronic conditions surfaced before the pile was even cleared’.
The air around the rubble was ‘thick with carcinogens’, and the exposure is thought to have ultimately killed more people than the attacks themselves. However, Buscemi believes that even if the firefighters knew the damage the air was doing, he’s ‘pretty sure they would have kept right on working’.
It actually felt good to be there. 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.
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.
With the attacks still impacting both the physical and mental health of people today, Buscemi pointed out some people have ‘no choice’ but to ‘never forget’.
He commented: ‘Never forget, because people are still struggling. People are still dying.’
In the wake of the attacks, the US Congress created a Victim Compensation Fund to help first responders cope with the aftermath, though survivors had to lobby for permanent support after the fund began to run out. The effort finally came to fruition in 2019, with backing from ‘every former firefighter who cannot laugh without coughing, and every family member who pretends not to notice’.
On the 20th anniversary of the attacks, our thoughts are with all the people who lost their lives, and all those who continue to be impacted by the events.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677