(NBC, KYMA/KECY) - Back on September 11, 2001, a fifth grader remembers everything that happened that day. Her dad responded with so many of his New York Fire Department (FDNY) brothers and sisters.
He survived the attacks, but died from a 9/11-related illness in 2016. And now she is documenting advocates of the Zadroga Act to expand health care for first responders with a project titled "Dust."
As a fifth grader in Marine Park, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bridget Gormley's school day on September 11, 2001 was surreal.
"Kids kept getting pulled outta school. Pulled outta school. All day...the population was blue collar cops firemen sanitation. All these kids' parents were likely here [where the World Trade Center collapsed]," Gormley detailed.
Something was not okay
Gormley's dad, Billy, out of Ladder Company 174, had responded with so many of his FDNY brothers and sisters to the 9/11 attacks.
"My mother picked me up and she's like, 'Daddy's ok. This happened...he's ok,'" Gormley spoke.
A relieved little girl, but as she went home from school, a realization something was not okay.
"There were papers flying all over the sky. We were grabbing them and putting them in bags," Gormley shared.
Four years later, a warning sign.
"2005 is when we started seeing people get really sick," Gormley remembered.
And a decade after that. The aftershock.
"In 2016, [my father] was diagnosed with bladder cancer. And then he passed away the following June," Gormley explained.
Gormley and her three brothers, and their mom were devastated, and she realized something.
"If I didn't know...as the daughter of a first responder whose parent got sick and died, *nobody* knows," Gormley remarked.
Gormley began traveling with Jon Feal and advocates of the Zadroga Act to expand health care for first responders. Jon Stewart credited with convincing Congress. Gormley recorded all of it for a documentary film called "Dust." Her takeaway from the project: The experts should have known better.
"It doesn't really take rocket science to know how bad it was...When you hear the composition of what was in that dust: Benzene lead. Chromium. Jet fuel. It was all these things that alone are carcinogens. And you mix 'em together and cook 'em for three months, it can't be good," Gormley explained.
Educating others is now her life's mission, and as the 22nd anniversary approaches. so does the new calculus. The impact of that day may reverberate for generations.
"A resident who was over in Battery Park, who was a newborn and exposed, they have to have their life covered to make sure that they don't ever have to bear the burden of financial medical expenses," Gormley expressed.
And two decades after that unforgettable day of school, Gormley thinks about it this way from the Memorial Glade, the grassy corner of the Trade Center site, dedicated to those, like her dad, lost after 9/11.
"If you look behind the Glade, it's very subtle and there's no names on it. If you were to put names on this, this entire square would be filled with people," Gormley described.