New York, NY — At the time of 9/11, Frank Tarulli was a Signal Maintainer. He had been on the job 18 years, having started in 1983. But when the planes hit, he was working at the West 4th Street station in Manhattan handing out safety equipment for workers.

He says a lot of that day is “a blur”, that he’s “working it out with psychiatrists and psychologists.” But he generously shared with LaborPress his experience, and the devastating consequences to his health that he suffered and still suffers to this day.

LP: Where were you on 9/11 as the events of the day began to unfold?

FT: Well, I remember that at eight o’clock we heard, on WCBS, that a plane had hit the towers and we figured it was one of those small planes. But then when we got the report that the second plane hit we said uh-oh, something going on here. We were told that all the MTA trucks were going to muster at the Atlantic Avenue pier in downtown Brooklyn. We joined a convoy of trucks, probably a mile long and we followed each other over the Brooklyn Bridge. And all I remember during the whole time was people lined up in the streets like it was a parade, and they were all like cheering us on. Seven World Trade Center had just come down. We went in and we worked on the piles trying to find people at the time. And then they said that our function would be to hand out safety equipment. We also spent time on the pile, in the bucket brigade.

LP: Did you immediately have health concerns or was it so dramatic that you did not even think about it at the time?

FT: Immediately. I had health concerns because all we had was paper masks. A guy I worked with at the time, Joe Ray, he wound up dying from cancer two years later. I remember telling my boss that I couldn’t breathe. We all didn’t know what the long term effects were gonna be. And EPA Administrator Christy Whitman had told us that there was nothing to worry about, about the air down there. That made us feel a little better.

Transit had the biggest work force down there. And nobody knows that. I had prostate cancer, and bladder cancer. I have emphysema, and COPD. The asthma I had before that since I was a child and so it wasn’t an ideal condition for me to be in.

I was diagnosed with stage 3 prostate cancer in 2012 so probably had the cancer for five or six years before that. But here it is almost 10 years later and I’m still here, and everything is pretty good. Everything’s in remission. I [also] ended up developing diabetes.

I retired on September 2, 2017, having used up all of my sick time on 9/11 related medical absences. Then the State Legislature passed a law that said all 9/11 related sick time should be reimbursed to the worker, but you had to be on the payroll as of September 11, 2017, and I just missed being eligible.

I did receive some compensation, but … I’m not recognized for being down there. All we’re asking is for recognition.


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