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Media Articles - 2000s

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16 December 2003
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Firefighters seek treatment recommended by Scientologist

The Associated Press
October 4, 2003

More than 140 firefighters have gone to a lower Manhattan clinic to take part in a detoxification treatment recommended by the founder of the Church of Scientology.

The firefighters, some of whom are suffering from ailments resulting from rescue efforts at the World Trade Center, are not charged for the treatment recommended by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, The New York Times first reported Saturday.

The regimen consists of exercise, saunas and pills provided by the Downtown Medical clinic. The Uniformed Firefighters Association has pledged to support the clinic as it seeks grants and other financing.

But some firefighters taking part in the program have stopped medical treatments recommended by their doctors like inhalers, antidepressants or blood pressure pills - a development that has upset Fire Department officials.

"While we are aware some members of the department have availed themselves of the program, we in no way endorse it," Francis Gribbon, a spokesman for the Fire Department, told the Times. "It's risky for anybody to stop any type of medication without guidance and a plan from their own treating physician."

Yet, other FDNY officials said they were impressed with the program. Stephan Hittmann, executive director of the department's Office of Fire and Life Safety, said that while he did not see the treatment as a substitute for traditional medical care, the program was having positive effects.

"The program seems to be the real deal," said Hittmann, who has no connection to the Church of Scientology. "People come out feeling invigorated, healthy, renewed."

Clinic officials told the Times that the clinic was not formally affiliated with the Church of Scientology, which counts actors John Travolta and Tom Cruise among its members.

Joseph Higgins, a retired firefighter who is a paid member of the clinic's advisory board, said Cruise paid for "quite a bit" of the treatments for rescue workers.

Higgins said he appreciated such donations because the program "saved my life."

"I am obligated to let every firefighter and rescue worker who was exposed to the dust know about the program," said Higgins, who advocates on behalf of the program.

Higgins said that after following the program's three-week regimen of vitamins and saunas he experienced a sharp improvement in the chemically induced asthma he contracted while working in the pit at Ground Zero for months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Linda Simmons Hight, an official in the church's Los Angeles office, told the Times that many Scientologists had donated to the clinic, though it was not part of the church.

The Church of Scientology, founded by Hubbard in 1954, teaches that technology can expand the mind and help solve problems.