Administration and Leadership, Columns

NYC Welcomes National EMS Memorial Capital-to-Capital Bike Ride with Special Mass to Honor Fallen EMS Providers

Entry 10: Honoring Our 9/11 Heroes in NYC

I’ve done this portion of the ride for many years as a Muddy Angel of the National EMS Memorial Bike Ride (NEMSBR) and it remains one of my favorite parts of the ride—cycling through New York City and Times Square with police escorts. As for the weather? Fuhgeddaboudit! It was another cold and windy day, but it didn’t matter as we had the New Yorkers to keep us warm. OK, maybe not so much the New Yorkers themselves, but there were moments when the steam from the sidewalk vents gave me a tingly rush.

Seriously, this small Colorado country boy finds the Gotham attitude curiously appealing. Maybe that is because Coloradoans have no accent or specific culture of their own to identify with so we borrow everyone else’s. I knew we were closing in on the city when a bystander shouted, “Yo! Where yoooz guys going?” When I replied, Washington, D.C., he replied, “Get the F#%&outahea! Oh, and put a real hat on. It’s brick outhea!”

There are no other cycling events I am aware of that give cyclists the opportunity to see New York City and Jersey City the way NEMSBR riders are blessed enough to experience. We rode less than 30 miles today, but the day was full of sight seeing from a bicyclist’s point of view and, most importantly, several ceremonies that honored our mission for those that gave their lives as EMS providers.

Today as we cycled through the congested city of New York, I was thinking of how wonderful a “slice” would taste (food is always on a long-distance cyclist’s mind) when I heard the familiar sound of bagpipes in the near distance. As we turned onto 5th Ave., we surprisingly witnessed the New York City Fire Dept. Pipes and Drum Corp. playing on the front steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. With them was Reverend Monsignor Robert Ritchie, who welcomed us as he gestured for all of us to enter his parish—including our bicycles.

Every year, more than 5 million people from all over the world enter this amazingly beautiful, hand crafted, stone neo-gothic style Roman Catholic cathedral that was originally constructed in 1879. Though initially surprised by such a kind gesture, it soon became apparent we had been invited well in advance of the ride to participate in a mass to honor those who have fallen as EMS providers.

Nine EMS providers from New York City died this past year from what was determined to be caused by the prolonged exposure they received while working the 9/11 disaster site. Every year, more names of those men and women from both the fire and EMS are added to the long list of those who died as a direct result of the terrorist attack that happened 15 years ago. Sadly, with American’s short-term memory, the sacrifices that were made back then are remembered only infrequently on the anniversary of that terrible day.

I was shockingly informed that these EMS providers, unlike the firefighters who died on 9/11, had to show proof their illness was a result of their work at the terrorist site before they or their relatives could receive benefits. I can find no words for this shameful reflection of disrespect for not only these brave men and women, but for our profession as a whole.

Following mass, the names of those we pedal for were read, as they are every day during the ride. Today we were joined by several family members who lost loved ones to their work as EMS rescuers during 9/11. As the pipes played Amazing Grace with their sound reverberating off the tall chiseled walls, each rider reflected, some with tears. I hope the family members found comfort in our kind presence. I know I did. 

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