BOYNTON BEACH - Twenty minutes after the second World Trade Center tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001, Richard Alles was at Ground Zero, scraping for survivors.
The battalion chief out of Brooklyn, who'd just finished a 24-hour shift, arrived by bus and spent the next three days uncovering the devastation. For the first few months, Alles said, he returned every other day, helping the effort until the exposure period ended in May 2002.
In his memories, he says, he hears no noises but can see the white debris that whirled as if part of a snowstorm. People were covered in it, crying.
Alles and about 400 retired New York City police officers met Thursday in Boynton to catch up with one another, an annual rendezvous that's taken place in Boynton for about five years.
Attorney Michael Barasch and Alles, who directs 9/11 community affairs for Barasch's law firm, took the event as an opportunity to inform the crowd about the World Trade Center Health Program, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and their risks for cancers and other diseases.
The VCF initially ran from 2001 to 2004, and was reopened years later when former president Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, according to the VCF. That also created the WTC Health Program.
While the WTC Health Program "provides medical monitoring and treatment for responders to the WTC and related sites in New York City, Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA, and survivors who were in the New York City disaster area," the VCF "provides financial compensation for those who were physically injured or died as a result of an eligible 9-11-related illness," according to the VCF.
The VCF Permanent Authorization Act, which President Donald Trump signed in July, "extends the VCF's claim filing deadline to October 1, 2090, and appropriates such funds as may be necessary to pay all approved claims," the VCF says.
Alles urged that people who are eligible register for such services, even if they're not yet sick. It's "definitely a lifesaver," he said.
Alles himself was diagnosed in 2010 with skin cancer, he said, after a doctor during a WTC Health Program-related medical exam flagged something on the left side of his neck. It was basal cell carcinoma, surgery warranted, and he's got a six-inch scar to tell the story.
Still, Alles said, in terms of his health, he has been "very fortunate."
He said he "can't say the same for many other colleagues."
Others in Boynton on Thursday included pals Charlie Connolly and Billy Maye, John Caparosa, Palm Beach 10-13 Club president, and John Wales, president of Fraternal Order of Police NYPD Detectives, Lodge 117.
There was also Stuart Milisci, who said he was on the Brooklyn Bridge the day the twin towers came down. He saw people jump, he said. His son, a firefighter who is now 49, responded.
Milisci said he retired from the police department in 1982. He'd then drive a school bus, its path passing Ground Zero, every day, twice a day, for three years.
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