Breathing Woes For 120 Bravest

Daily News Police Bureau Chief

As many as 120 city firefighters are suffering from moderate to severe breathing problems likely caused by working at Ground Zero, according to a top FDNY medical expert, the Daily News has learned.

Of the 10,000 pulmonary tests administered after Sept. 11, more than 8,000 firefighters had normal readings, said Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY's deputy chief medical officer.

Another 1,700 firefighters had minor breathing abnormalities, which are being treated and won't affect their ability to work full-time.

But about 1% had moderate to severe changes in their lung capacity and can no longer perform the rigorous job of firefighting, said Prezant, also a pulmonary specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Those firefighters may be forced to work light-duty desk jobs the rest of their careers.

"It's a gigantic concern. There is going to be a percentage of firefighters who cannot recover," Prezant said. "For people at the peak of their health and performance, this is a major change in their lifestyle."

Prezant and another FDNY doctor, Kerry Kelly, spent six months testing the more than 10,000 firefighters who responded to or worked at the site of the World Trade Center attack.

Among the ailments of those with moderate to severe problems are constant sinus drip, sore throats, shortness of breath, obstructed air passages, asthma and bronchitis.

"You know you are putting your friends at risk if you can't climb 10 flights of stairs, so these individuals do not want to put their brothers and sisters in danger," Prezant said. "It's hard for them to know they are not working full duty, but the job of fighting fires is a team effort."

Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta, who took over the department four months after the loss of 343 members of the FDNY, said, "We are aware there are other losses that we will incur, including these brave members who may have suffered career-ending injuries."

Tom Manley, a Uniformed Firefighters Association union official, said, "It's not just the guys who passed away that are the casualties. The casualties in the Fire Department are not going to end for a long time."