First responders, Jon Stewart celebrate 9/11 hero who fought for reauthorization of Zadroga Act

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NEW YORK —  A key to the city was presented to retired firefighter Ray Pfeifer this morning at City Hall. Pfeifer made over a dozen trips to Washington, DC to lobby lawmakers to reauthorize the Zadroga Act. He said that he told them that first responders were still dying from the terror attack on 9/11, or that they were sick. Despite his heroism, he deflected the spotlight on Saturday.

“I don’t know why I’m here. I … everybody did something. I want to be up there with the guys on the back step,” he said, pointing to  firefighters on a back balcony.

Pfeifer searched the World Trade Center site and helped with the clean up for 8 months after September 11, 2001. He is now fighting stage 4 cancer and uses a wheel chair.

“That wheelchair became a sword,” said John Feal, a 9-11 first responder and activist, "That wheelchair was symbolic of those who were home who could not be there in DC to fight with us.”

Comedian Jon Stewart was invited to the celebration at City Hall, after serving as Pfeifer’s self-proclaimed ‘wing-man’ down in Washington.

“They made an excellent choice, with Ray,” said Stewart, "The key to the city is a symbol of trust. If you gave it to me, you’d go to sleep and I’d steal the Chrysler Building. But Ray, you come back the next morning, everything is where you left it and the dishes are done.”

Stewart said that Pfeifer wrote to one lawmaker to apologize after Stewart ambushed her with a camera crew for not yet supporting the bill. He said that Pfeifer later became friendly with that lawmaker and earned her vote.

Reauthorization of the Zadroga Act, which expired in 2015, will provide a lifetime of health benefits for all those impacted by Ground Zero-related illnesses. Congress passed the bill in December, marking the end of a 2-year-fight.

Richard Alles, legislative director for the Uniformed Fire Officers Association said that at the outset, they did not think it would be such a hard fought battle.

"No I didn’t,” said Alles, "The first time around yeah, when we got the bill passed back in 2010 because a lot of the studies were still being conducted. And we were really, basically asking a lot of the electeds in Washington to buy into the projections. But 5 years later, those projections exceeded. We have over 72,000 in the program, and 32,000 that are sick and injured and receiving treatment.”

The health needs of 9-11 first responders will now be covered until the year 2090.