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Greenport firefighter with 9/11 illness wants other responders to register with state before looming deadline

Antone “Tony” Volinski was one of the thousands of first responders who hurried to the smoldering wreckage of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

As a member of the Greenport Fire Department, he and a half-dozen other members drove one of the trucks to Lower Manhattan on Sept. 12, stayed for 24 hours helping with recovery efforts and returned Sept. 16 to continue the work.

Mr. Volinski, 62, has lived in Greenport since age 5 and is now a 44-year GFD veteran. And he’d mostly put the dark days of 2001 behind him until May, when he began to complain of throat pain. He visited a local doctor, who was alarmed by what he saw in the back of Mr. Volinski’s throat and sent him to Stony Brook University Hospital. 

There, after many tests, a cancerous tumor was confirmed. In early July it was removed, along with part of his tongue and some lymph nodes. He has been told the cancer is now gone.

“I didn’t make any connection to 9/11 until a friend told me to register with the World Trade Center Health Program,” Mr,. Volinski said.

After a nuber of interviews and examinations at the program’s Commack office, Mr. Volinski’s tumor was connected to the dusty air he breathed during the three days he spent at the ground zero.

The program was established to monitor the health impacts of those who lived or worked in Lower Manhattan and first responders who arrived at the scene in the aftermath of the attacks. Approximately $3 billion has been paid out to date, depending on the types and seriousness of cancers and a host of other health issues.

Mr. Volinski also registered with the state Workers Compensation Board. The deadline to register with that board is Sept. 11, 2022, according to his attorney, Beth Jablon of Garden City.

“There is no deadline with the WTC program, but the state program for now has the Sept. 11 deadline,” she said.

Mr. Volinski and his wife, Debbie, said they are grateful for the medical attention he received and the most recent prognosis that he is cancer free. But in an interview at their Greenport home, they stressed that the deadline for registering with the Workers Compensation Board is less than two months away. 

Steve Brickman of Jamesport, a retired FDNY firefighter who spent nearly two weeks at ground zero after Sept. 11, died in April 2020 of illness doctors attributed to toxins he inhaled there, according to the FDNY. He was 57. In 2013, Mr. Brickman was diagnosed with stage 4 head and neck cancer and stage 4 lung cancer. 

“We want anyone who was at the scene that day, even if you have no health problems at all, to register before the deadline and that way if something does change in the future, you are in the system,” Mr. Volinski said.

“We are very lucky,” Ms. Volinski said. “Who would have thought something like this would happen 20 years after 9/11? That’s why it is important for anyone who responded to register, even if down the road you remain healthy. That is our message to anyone who went to the scene.”

There is a world of information on various websites about the WTC Health Program. That program is separate from the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. To apply to the WTC Health Program, go to cdc.gov/wtc/apply.html. Follow three steps: See if you are eligible; review required documentation; and then apply. To reach the state Workers Compensation Board by Sept, 11, 2022, go to wcb.ny.gov.

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