Fire Officials Upset at End of a Program for Survivors


The New York City Fire Department is concerned about the scheduled end of a federally funded program that was established after the World Trade Center attack to provide crisis counseling for city firefighters and other survivors.

The program, Project Liberty, is due to end on Dec. 31, and department officials are worried that without it, thousands of firefighters will be left without counseling even as delayed effects of the terrorist attack begin to emerge.

"We can't just let it end," said Dr. Kerry J. Kelly, the department's chief medical officer. "We need to have continued funding. I cannot stress how important this money is."

Project Liberty was created by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which gave the New York State Health Department more than $130 million in the months after the attacks to administer crisis counseling programs in places like the Fire Department and city public schools. The project alloted about $8.5 million to the Fire Department to expand its counseling service and to help firefighters manage the grief, stress and family problems that mushroomed after Sept. 11, 2001.

Project Liberty could be extended into March, said Brad Gair, a spokesman for the federal agency. State officials who administer Project Liberty, however, have not asked for an extension, Mr. Gair said.

"We have no desire to turn anything off while there's still a need there," he added. "For some of the key projects involving kids and firemen, we're definitely interested in extending them."

Fire officials have said Project Liberty was crucial in expanding the department's counseling services.

Between September 2001 and June 2003, they said, the Fire Department opened 5,701 clinical cases with Project Liberty money. Last year alone, they said, the department opened 3,600 cases, or six times its average annual caseload before the attacks.

"Not only did so many people die, leaving spouses and children behind," Dr. Kelly said, "but you also had a group of people who had prime exposure to a life-threatening event and then, in the aftermath, went through a grueling rescue-and-recovery operation."

Project Liberty allowed the department to send clinical workers on "house calls" to each of the city's 60 firehouses where at least one firefighter had died; train several firefighters to serve as peer counselors; and create programs to deal with marital problems.

"From our viewpoint, we could not have managed without this money," Dr. Kelly said.

What has particularly troubled the department is that the federal government paid for a five-year crisis counseling program for survivors of the bombing in Oklahoma City, said Malachy Corrigan, director of the Fire Department's Counseling Services Unit. It is crucial to keep the program going in New York as well, he said, because symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder often do not surface until years after a tragic event.

It was a tremendous accomplishment just to persuade more than 5,000 firefighters