A Look Back at 9/11

Ten years ago this month, James Kobetitsch, PT, served in round-the-clock rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero as a NYC firefighter while also caring for his patients as a physical therapist with Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY).

In mid-October 2001, Kobetitsch was recognized by VNSNY for the professional manner and compassion with which he treated his patients, even under extreme duress. Kobetitsch has worked as a physical therapist with VNSNY, the nation's largest not-for-profit home healthcare organization, since 1983. Retired from NYC Fire Department since 2005, Kobetitsch continues to practice in VNSNY's Queens region.

Starting on Sept. 11, 2001, Kobetitsch served with fellow firefighters assigned to help with rescue efforts immediately following the terror attack on the World Trade Center.

"Jim worked tirelessly and courageously on the scene for the first 24 hours following the events of the World Trade Center, and still managed to report to work the next day and treat his patients as scheduled," shared Carol Raphael, president and CEO, VNSNY, while honoring Kobetitsch with a Special Recognition Award in mid-October 2011. "Jim did not want to let his patients down. Through the days that followed, Jim maintained a double-duty schedule, assisting at Ground Zero and continuing to treat his patients."

Raphael noted that Kobetitsch was working on an exceptionally challenging case at VNSNY at the time. The patient's family trusted only Kobetitsch to provide care.

This patient and his family required a significant amount of attention and support, and despite Kobetitsch's other commitment, he gave his all. "Even with the effort Jim was making at Ground Zero, he managed to maintain his relationship with the family, thereby ensuring that the patient's care was not interrupted," Raphael stated.

Starting on Sept. 11, 2001, James Kobetitsch, PT, served with fellow firefighters assigned to help with rescue efforts immediately following the terror attack on the World Trade Center. Photos courtesy of James Kobetitsch and Visiting Nurse Service of New York

Looking back on his experiences a decade ago, Kobetitsch remembered that "focusing on the patients gave me a sense of normalcy. I was grasping for anything that felt like something `normal.'"After weeks of dividing his time between recovery work at Ground Zero and PT patient care, Kobetitsch recalls feeling ready to get back to his regular case load.

"At that time, thousands of firefighters were working 24 hours on, 24 hours off at the World Trade Center," reminisced Kobetitsch. "During that time, seeing patients as a PT helped me feel like I was escaping from everything else that was going on in the city."

As a result of the time he spent working at Ground Zero, Kobetitsch experienced mild respiratory problems. "What I experienced was nothing compared to the serious sinus or asthma symptoms or cancers endured by others who worked at the site," he recalled.

With his fellow firefighters, he was recognized in other parts of the world as well. In February 2002, he traveled to County Kerry, Ireland, with three fellow NYC firefighters to participate in a fundraiser arranged by the Irish Golf Association in support of the families of those lost on 9/11.

"I was driven to become a firefighter years ago when I treated a firefighter who was in the hospital," recalled Kobetitsch. "The patient enjoyed working with me and wanted to give me an application to take the exam. I told him I liked being a physical therapist, and he said, `you can do both!'"

James Kobetitsch, PT, and other NYC firefighters were recognized in other parts of the world as well for their round-the-clock rescue and recovery operations at Ground Zero.
More than 10 years ago, the NYC Fire Department took control of the EMS and trained all firefighters as Certified First Responders. "In addition to our usual firefighting duties, we were dispatched on 911 calls for medical emergencies," shared Kobetitsch. "Often, we would arrive on the scene before the ambulance."

Kobetitsch believes that his background as a PT providing patient care made him more competent and comfortable dealing with all the medical emergencies encountered as a firefighter.

"My firefighting career, including my training and experience as a certified first responder, has had positive effects on my career in physical therapy," relayed Kobetitsch. "Firefighting has helped me be more prepared and comfortable dealing with any medical emergency that I may encounter while making a home visit."

When Kobetitsch performs an initial PT assessment in a patient's home, he considers the patient's environment and home safety. "It's not uncommon for me to find smoke alarms beeping because of low or missing batteries, as well as overloaded electrical outlets, or old stoves that are leaking gas," he shared. "Our patients are at even more risk due to decreased mobility and homebound status. I always find myself including fire-safety issues and talking with the patient and family about potential fire hazards."

James Kobetitsch, PT, and fellow NYC firefighters traveled to County Kerry, Ireland, for a 9/11 fundraiser held by the Irish Golf Association to benefit survivors of those killed at the World Trade Center.

Kobetitsch served as a firefighter for 20 years in the West Harlem area of NYC. "In the 1980s, West Harlem was a busy area with a lot of vacant buildings, the crack epidemic, and so forth," observed Kobetitsch. "Nowadays, there have been so many renovations and improvements in that area and all over the city that conditions are much better."



Wonderful article! As you read this article, you can tell what a caring, compassionate person Jim is. Our world needs more people like this man!

SNdy JurySeptember 13, 2011
Thousand Oaks, CA


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