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Women of Ground Zero honored by boro group

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They were the invisible heroes of Sept. 11.

The Queens Women’s Center shined a spotlight on the Women from Ground Zero Friday, honoring women police officers, firefighters, emergency services workers, and iron workers at the group’s 15th anniversary celebration.

Because the city’s emergency services and uniformed officers are overwhelmingly male, the majority of the rescuers responding to the World Trade Center attacks were men. Of the 411 firefighters, police officers, Port Authority officers, paramedics and EMTs who were killed in the terrorist attacks, 11 were women, according to the Web site www.womenatgroundzero.com.

That has left the women who responded to the terrorist attacks with significantly less recognition, a problem addressed after last week’s award ceremony hosted by Queens Women’s Center founder Ann Jawin.

Police Officer Moira Smith of Queens Village, the only woman out of 23 New York Police Department officers to be killed at Ground Zero, was also honored. Smith worked out of the 13th Precinct in Manhattan.

Deputy Inspector Kathleen Kearns, a native of Woodhaven and a 23-year NYPD veteran, was a friend of Smith’s.

“My heart is with Moira,” said Kearns, who worked in the 13th Precinct with Smith, was also honored. “I think it’s a wonderful event.”

Officer Lissa Navarra, a Flushing resident, has been in the NYPD for 19 years and also worked with Smith. Navarra accepted the Queens Women’s Center on behalf of Smith’s family.

“She was a hero to me way before that day,” Navarra said of Smith. “You just don’t want anybody to ever forget.”

Jawin has been battling the city Fire Department for eight months, fighting to keep the women’s center at its Fort Totten building. The building is overseen by the Fire Department. The women’s center has been forced to vacate the building and is now raising money to renovate a different building at the fort.

If she was bitter toward the Fire Department, Jawin did not show it when rookie Firefighter Michele Fitzsimmons took the stage to accept her honor.

“This is what a New York City firefighter looks like,” the diminutive Jawin told the audience as she smiled up at the taller Fitzsimmons.

Fitzsimmons, a Flushing resident who works at Engine Co. 289 in Corona, joined the FDNY a year ago after deciding to follow in the footsteps of her family.

“My grandfather was a firefighter,” she said, pointing to the same reason many men give when asked why they chose to become firefighters.

“It’s nice to be recognized,” she said of the awards ceremony. “It’s nice to have people remember.”

Ivonne Sanchez, an EMT who lives and works in the Bronx, had been working at Ground Zero in memory of a firefighter friend who was killed.

“I was hoping while I was there we’d find his remains, but we never did,” said the 14-year veteran of the EMS.

Sanchez said: “I feel very honored and humbled to get an award as a woman. We really don’t get appreciated in the service.”

The Queens Women’s Center also recognized community activists last week, particularly those groups who helped the group in its eviction fight with the Fire Department.

June Briese, president of the Queens Women’s Bar Association, was given the Organization Award. The bar association filed documents in support of the Queens Women’s Center after the center took its battle to court.

The women’s center also handed out Good Guy awards, honoring several Bay Terrace and Bayside activists who supported the center’s efforts to stay at Fort Totten. Those recognized included Phil Konigsberg and Warren Schreiber of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and activist Larry Sullivan.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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