No responders left behind

The documentary film, No Responder Left Behind covers the sobering illnesses thousands of 9/11 first responders face and the lack of government support they have received in the years following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. 

Kelly Zemnickis first became aware of this dire issue while watching The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. John Stewart made a special come back appearance on The Tonight Show in December of 2015 to bring attention to the first responders whose benefits had expired in September and to appeal to viewers to tweet “Majority LeaderMitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan using the hashtags #EndTheF**kery and #WorstResponders“ in an effort to sway the politicians to pass the 9/11 Zadroga Act. 

Stewart had planned to interview 4 first responders who had originally appeared on the show in 2010 to highlight the compensation The Zadroga Act would provide to the families of first responders who died from illnesses stemming from exposure to the toxins from 9/11. Of the 4 seats, 3 were empty. Two of the men were too sick to appear on the show and the third had died. Kenny Specht was the only original first responder who had been on the 2010 segment to appear on the show in 2015. The December 2015 Daily Show episode shone a light on the lack of information about the struggles the brave men and women who risked their lives in the hours, days, weeks, months and years following 9/11. 

Zemnickis was watching from her home in Canada that night and set the wheels in motion that would connect her to John Feal and ultimately on the path to becoming a documentary film maker. With a tweet and an email message, she embarked on a project that would help to highlight the injustices first responders face in their battle for healthcare and compensation.


Though I am in Canada, I too Tweeted my support, and a friend of John Feal’s connected with me. I messaged him, asking how I could help. That’s when I was told to “talk to John Feal,” and we were introduced via email the next day. John had helped pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Bill in 2010, and helped the bill get that re-authorization in 2015.
— Kelly Zemnickis, documentary film maker

John Feal was working construction on September 11, 2001 when the first plane hit. After the second plane hit the second tower, John sent the crew of 200 men working at the site home, gathered his possessions and responded to a Mayday call that led him to Ground Zero. With John’s military and construction knowledge, he worked tirelessly day and night clearing debris until on September 17th, 8000 lbs of steel nearly crushed him. His quick reflexes saved his life, however he lost part of his foot in the accident. He was hospitalized and underwent two emergency surgeries and went into septic shock. John encountered all sorts of obstacles to receiving the workman’s compensation he deserved upon leaving the hospital. He did not give up. 

A fire had been lit in him. He not only fought for his own rights, but became a beacon of light for other men and women who were encountering similar barriers in their efforts to overcome hurdles for the compensation and care they were due. From this fight, John Feal created the Fealgood Foundation. 

Kelly Zemnickis wanted the world to learn about John Feal and the plight of the numerous other first responders who have given so much of themselves to be helpers. She along with her friend Rob and his producing partner Kristine set out to bring these stories to light and to hopefully inspire others to get involved with the immensely important cause of taking care of the men and women who put their lives on the line in the face of one of the darkest days in American history. 

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If you are a first responder, lived, worked or went to school in Lower Manhattan in the months following 9/11 and have a diagnosis, you could be eligible for compensation.