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Steve Buscemi “Absolutely” Has PTSD from Volunteer Firefighting After 9/11 Attacks

"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"

steve buscemi volunteer fire department 9/11 ptsd terrorist attacks
Steve Buscemi, image courtesy of the artist
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    For four years in the early 1980s, Steve Buscemi worked as a firefighter on the FDNY’s Engine 55 while pursuing an acting career on the side. After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, he famously reconnected with his old unit as a volunteer firefighter, helping clear out rubble for five days. With the 20th anniversary of the attacks arriving this weekend, Buscemi has been reliving that experience, both in a moving essay in Time and in a new interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. Via the Independent, he told Maron that he “absolutely” suffers from 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. It’s still with me. 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.”

    He added, “I haven’t experienced any health issues, and I get myself checked out, but definitely…. Post traumatic stress? Absolutely.”

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    As Buscemi explained, “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. I was depressed, I was anxious, I couldn’t make a simple decision. All those things. It’s still with me. 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.”

    Now, the veteran actor wants to use his platform to advocate for others. In his new essay in Time, Buscemi wrote of 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. Somebody’d say, ‘This is probably going to kill us in 20 years.’ Well, it didn’t take 20 years.”

    Carcinogens filled the air, leading to lasting health problems for first responders, volunteers, and other helpers. “Today more people are thought to have died from toxic exposure at the 9/11 site than died that day,” Buscemi said.

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    To demonstrate the point, he held up the oft-repeated phrase “Never forget,” a favorite of the Bush administration, pundits, and others.

    “‘Never forget,’ everyone said. Some people have no choice. What’s surprising is who has to be reminded. Shortly after the attack, Congress created a Victim Compensation Fund to help first responders cope with the aftermath of the day. When the money began to run out, survivors had to launch a lobbying campaign to secure permanent funding, which finally came in 2019. It was an effort led by Jon Stewart and activist John Feal and backed by every former firefighter who cannot laugh without coughing, and every family member who pretends not to notice.

    “Never forget, because people are still struggling. People are still dying.”

    Buscemi will be hosting a benefit for Friends of Firefighters on September 10th in Leonardo, NJ. Tickets are available through the event website, and the organization is also asking for donations.

    Earlier this year, Buscemi participated in a Fargo cast reunion. In 2020, he appeared in the films Hubie Halloween and The King of Staten Island.

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