Steve Buscemi experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after volunteering with the FDNY in Sept. 11 recovery efforts.
The 63-year-old was a firefighter at NYC’s Engine Company 55, from 1980 to 1984, before becoming a TV and movie star. When planes crashed into the World Trade Center in 2001, the actor from Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, showed up at Ground Zero and put in 12-hour shifts for several days alongside firefighters and first responders searching for survivors in the rubble.
“I kept calling the fire house,” he recalled on Mark Maron’s WTF podcast, “and of course there was no answer. Because I knew that they would be there [at Ground Zero]. Then I eventually learned that five of [the members of his firehouse] were missing. One of them was a good friend of mine I used to work with.”
So he grabbed his old gear and was dropped off at the site, where he “walked around for hours and then found my company, found Engine 55, working there. I asked if I could join them. I could tell they were a little suspicious at first, but I worked with them that day.”
And for four more days after that, he continued to help sift through rubble and move body bags.
Buscemi said he hasn’t “experienced any health issues” as a result, while Ground Zero first responders have, “and I get myself checked out.” However, he “definitely” has PTSD.
“I was only there for like five days, but when I stopped going and tried to just live my life again, it was really, really hard,” he said. “I was depressed. I was anxious. I couldn’t make a simple decision. All those things.”
In fact, “It’s still with me,” he said. “There are times when I talk about 9/11 and I’m right back there. I start to get choked up and I realize, ‘Ah, this is still a big part of me.'”
Buscemi is executive producer of the new documentary Dust: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11, which spotlights health problems that firefighters who were at Ground Zero have faced.
Buscemi also wrote an essay for Time detailing the unhealthy conditions at Ground Zero.
“The dust? It was more of a nuisance: pulverized concrete and who-knows-what that clogged a face mask, so fast you worked better without one,” he recalled. “Somebody’d say, ‘This is probably going to kill us in 20 years.’”
He continued, “Well, it didn’t take 20 years. Debilitating chronic conditions surfaced before the pile was even cleared. Today more people are thought to have died from toxic exposure at the 9/11 site than died that day.”
While officials claimed the air was safe, “it was of course thick with carcinogens. But had the truth been shared with the firefighters, I’m pretty sure they would have kept right on working.”
Buscemi also wrote, “‘Never forget,’ everyone said. Some people have no choice. What’s surprising is who has to be reminded,” noting the battle for the Victim Compensation Fund to get permanent funding.
“‘Never forget,’ because people are still struggling. People are still dying.”