Retired FDNY Firefighter Died Following Fight with 9/11-Related Cancer

Injured FDNY Member Fought Long and Hard for Zadroga Act and its Reauthorization

Ray Pfeifer, 59, a retired 27-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) died of cancer associated with his selfless work at the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City. Pfeifer long fought his cancer that was attributed to his work at Ground Zero as he was also lobbying Congress to fund health care for his fellow first responders, officials said, Newsday reported.

Pfeifer worked approximately eight months on the pile of dangerous debris in lower Manhattan and also made more than one-dozen trips to Washington, D.C., to convince hesitant lawmakers to pass the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. The Act is named to honor another 9/11 hero, a New York Police Department (NYPD) officer who died of respiratory disease contracted at Ground Zero, according to Newsday.

In 2015, Congress voted to extend Zadroga coverage, which had been approved five years prior, to 2090. Many credit this victory, in part, to Pfeifer’s activism. “Ray Pfeifer was a true fighter who bravely battled fires as a New York City Firefighter and fought tirelessly for all first responders who—like him—suffered from World Trade Center related illness,” Fire Commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, indicated in a statement. “The entire FDNY family deeply mourns his loss.” Pfeifer told Newsday in 2016, concerning his appearances before Congress that, “All I did was go down there and fight the politicians who wanted to fight us.”

At a 2012 East Meadow event to raise funds for his Pfeifer’s expensive treatments, Pfeifer told Newsday about his frustrations getting 9/11 first responders help to pay their medical bills. “It never was about me. I was one of many thousands that worked on the pile. . . . We’re still waiting to prove that’s where my cancer comes from? . . . I would like to see the government step up and do the right thing so we don’t have to fundraise for our treatments.”

Following Pfeifer’s death last month, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that, “With the death of Ray Pfeifer, New York City has lost a hero and an inspiration. My prayers are with his family and all of the FDNY.” Senator Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) also wrote via Twitter: “You meet very few truly great men in your life. Ray was one of them.”

Pfeifer is a native of Long Island’s Levittown who also worked as a volunteer firefighter in East Meadow. He was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer that metastasized to his bones nine years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He underwent years of chemotherapy and radiation and a partial leg amputation that left him wearing a brace and having to use a wheelchair.

John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, which fought alongside Pfeifer and comedian Jon Stewart to get Zadroga passed and renewed, described Pfeifer as the “epitome of dignity and class” in how he conducted himself. “Ray always said he was the poster child for this whole thing,” Feal said. “I don’t think Ray was the poster child for this. Ray was the backbone … Ray never gave himself enough credit.”

Ray Pfeifer is survived by his wife, Caryn, and two children. His son, Terence, is a member of the FDNY. His daughter, Taylor, hopes to become a Suffolk County (Long Island) police officer, officials said.

National law firm, Parker Waichman LLP, has worked with and for 9/11 victims in the years since the attacks, including lobbying trips to Washington D.C. to fight for the Zadroga Act and reauthorization of the Act.

Ray Pfeifer Honored for Work to Reauthorize the Zadroga Act

Among other recognitions, Pfeifer was presented with a key to the City of New York. WPIX11 reported that Pfeifer was presented with a key to the city for his efforts. Pfeifer shied from the spotlight by stating “I don’t know why I’m here. I … everybody did something. I want to be up there with the guys on the back step.”

“That wheelchair became a sword,” said 9/11 responder and advocate John Feal. “That wheelchair was symbolic of those who were home who could not be there in D.C. to fight with us.”

CNN noted that Ray Pfeifer slept in his fire truck for a week after the September 11, 2001 attacks, spending the next eight months poring through the rubble, “searching for friends,” he said.

Talking about the Zadroga Act, Pfeifer said that, “We got something done that I never would have thought would have gotten done…. We dealt with people who didn’t really get it. We held it to (politicians) about never forgetting. We told them, ‘We’re still dying from terrorists. We’re still sick from terrorists.’ They started to get it,” Pfeifer said. “I was just the poster boy … but everybody did something,” he said.

Ray Pfeifer spent his final days in hospice care, suffering from brain cancer, and cancer in his nodules, lungs, and adrenal glands, according to CNN affiliate WPIX.

Because of Pfeifer’s leadership, de Blasio said, survivors “get to wake up in the morning and not have that horrible, pervasive worry about their future. They don’t have to wonder what’s going to happen next to them and their families because they did the right thing when it was their moment to stand up.”

The collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001 produced a massive plume of toxic dust containing pulverized wood, paper, jet fuel; pulverized construction materials including asbestos, glass, silica, fiberglass, and concrete; organic chemicals; benzene; dioxin; and lead, and other metals. The dust, debris, and smoke from the burning rubble hovered over lower Manhattan, exposing first responders, rescue and recovery workers, and people who lived and worked in the area to toxins, irritants, and carcinogens. Especially in the early days following the attacks, many rescue and recovery workers worked without proper protective equipment.

Legal Help for Those with WTC-Related Health Conditions 

If you or someone you know has developed cancer or another illness that may be linked to 9/11 toxic exposure, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can offer a free, no-obligation consultation on your right to compensation. To reach the firm, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).

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