Bill Engler says the memories of the faces he saw while walking into Ground Zero in his EMT uniform every day are still powerful, 18 years later.
"They handed us pictures of people they knew who were missing and asked us to please look for them," Engler recalled." Everybody who handed us a picture, we took that picture and we said yes, we will look for them."
But Engler, who was deployed after 9/11 with the Seattle-King County disaster medical team never considered the health challenges he would face years later from being exposed to airborne toxic particles. Asbestos and even microscopic shards of glass hung heavy in the air for weeks.
"Sometimes a little wind would kick up and all that dust would come around," Engler said. We did breathe that stuff."
Engler found out nine years after his deployment that he had a specific kind of prostate cancer, which doctors say is directly related to his post 9-11 service.
"All the records from my doctor in Seattle were sent to Washington DC, and they evaluated everything and said, 'Yes, this is one of those cancers we were expecting people to maybe get."
Bill's says he is grateful to be in remission, "They caught it just in time," he said, but he knows so many more are still paying the price from their service.
A recent study estimates about 40,000 people have medical conditions linked to 9/11 service, including thousands with respiratory diseases. The Federal government has identified 68 specific forms of cancer on the list of 9/11-related illnesses, ranging from skin to lung to prostate cancer and beyond.
"There's a lot of us out there that contracted certain kinds of cancers from what we were exposed to," Engler said. "Everyone who was there working, cleaning, finding bodies, people preparing food, they're all first responders, and they could be at risk."
"We're kind of like lab rats on this," he said. "They're not quite sure exactly what you're going to get and when it's going to come about."
Engler said even if he knew he'd have to battle cancer years later, he would still have volunteered to provide medical service at Ground Zero. "That's our job," he said. "That's what we do."
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