9/11 responders live with injuries, illnesses sustained at Ground Zero

The stabbing pain in Robert Reeg’s chest every day is a relentless reminder of Sept. 11, 2001.

The retired New York City firefighter from Stony Point was seriously injured in the collapse of the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

“If I close my eyes, I can picture it,” the now 59-year-old recalled.

Reeg, a firefighter with Engine 44 in the Bronx, was reaching for equipment in a truck when he saw the top of the building start to crumble.

“It looked like a mushroom coming down,” he said. “As I saw it coming, I started running the other way. I got some distance, and then parts of the building were rocketing past me like they were shot out of a cannon.”

Hurtling steel slammed into his back and head, knocking him to the ground as he was buried in rubble.

When the tsunami of debris stopped, all he could hear was a chorus of beeping PASS alarms, devices firefighters wear that go off if they aren’t moving.

Barely able to breathe or see in the thick cloud of dust, he crawled on the ground and managed to climb into a police car, where he was found by police officers.

But his ordeal wasn’t over. The ambulance taking him to the hospital narrowly dodged the North Tower collapse and hit a bus before Reeg finally reached the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. He was then transferred to Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx and needed surgery for six broken ribs, a collapsed lung and blood in the membranes around his lungs. He had also developed a staph infection.

Reeg, a father of two daughters, spent nearly a month in the hospital and was shocked to learn how many friends he lost.

“A lot of times it’s the luck of the draw,” he said. “You ran one way, you made it; you ran another way, and you didn’t.”

Reeg tried to go back to work, but had to retire in 2003. Doctors have to monitor scar tissue in his lungs that’s around the concrete and glass still lodged there. Today he suffers from nerve damage, back and chest pain and asthma attacks.

“I don’t like to make a big deal of it,” he said. “A lot of people have pain. I just put up with it.”

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