AUGUSTA – Bath Fire Department Capt. Mike Clarke isn’t looking for a handout; he just wants members of Congress to do what’s right.

Clarke, who lives in Bath but grew up on Long Island, N.Y., was part of a New England-based Federal Emergency Management Agency search-and-rescue team called to New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, just after the second World Trade Center building collapsed.

He’s been trying to get Maine U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to support a bill that would provide $7.4 billion in additional funding for health care coverage over the next 10 years for 9/11’s first responders.

Many of them are suffering from illnesses caused by the toxic fumes, dust and smoke they encountered at ground zero.

Clarke, a newly elected state representative, wrote the Republican senators Friday, requesting their support.

“I don’t believe that there’s anybody involved with the response to the Trade Center that would say, ‘I should have never done that.’ It was definitely a calling when things were all bad, we were all there,” he said. “The disappointment comes in where you look at what’s going on — I think people need to step up from both sides of the aisle.”

The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but has stalled in the U.S. Senate because of Republican opposition to how the measure would have been funded.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the bill’s lead sponsor, has been working to find funding alternatives that can win Republican support, a spokesman from her office said Friday.

Collins is the top Republican on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees FEMA.

She met with a group of first responders on Thursday, and issued a statement that afternoon pledging to support the measure if it were brought to the floor with “appropriate offsets.”

“Like all Americans, I am deeply grateful that so many heroic rescue and recovery personnel from all over the country worked tirelessly in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. It is important that those who fell ill as a result of exposure to toxins receive the proper care and treatment that they need,” she said in a statement.

A spokesman for Snowe said she has met with constituents and a firefighter who support the legislation, but did not indicate whether she would support it.

“Sen. Snowe has not forgotten the uncounted acts of bravery and selflessness of our first responders on Sept. 11, and is working with her colleagues to address the long-term health care needs of those who responded in America’s time of need,” Snowe spokesman John Gentzel said in a statement.

The Senate is hoping to vote on the bill before it adjourns.

Maine’s U.S. representatives — Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree, both Democrats — voted to pass the 9/11 bill in the House.

Clarke said when he went to work at ground zero, neither he nor any of the other first responders were thinking about their own health.

“It was a matter of helping people that needed help and, unfortunately, there weren’t many people to help down there once the towers came down,” he said.

But now, the need for additional health care support is real, Clarke said.

“There are people that are sick. Not necessarily just New York City firefighters and police officers, but there’s members from the urban search-and-rescue teams now that are starting to come down with ailments all connected to 9/11, connected to the fact that we took in a lot of dust and we took in a lot of smoke from the fires,” said Clarke, whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all New York City firefighters.

Clarke currently receives an annual health screening because of his role on 9/11 and said he has been healthy so far.

“But what’s going to happen five years from now, what’s going to happen 20 years from now?” he said. “If I get sick and I have to go on a series of medications that cost me a few hundred dollars a month — including some of the medical care that I may need if I get sick — my wife and I lose our small business that we have, I lose my career in the fire service.”

“These are things that break the family, these are things that break a household and everything you work for,” he said.

Everyone who served on his 74-member Massachusetts-based task force, which was at ground zero for 10 days beginning Sept. 11, is also still in good health, Clarke said.

“We were on Church and Day streets from day one and we saw fire, we saw smoke, we saw dust — we saw a lot of things that humans shouldn’t have to see,” he said.

“I know they are pushing hard to get this bill; it’s a shame that it’s become so emotional, but there are people that are getting sick and there’s people that have died from the illnesses and I think it’s the right thing to do.”

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]