Firemen carry an injured man from the World Trade Center after both towers collapsed after planes crashed into the buildings in New York on September 11, 2001. (Reuters/Peter Morgan)
Less than two weeks after the 13th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, three New York firefighters who worked at Ground Zero died of cancer, all on the same day, the Fire Department of New York said.
Lt. Howard Bischoff, 58, and firefighters Robert Leaver, 56, and Daniel Heglund, 58, died within hours of one another Monday. Bischoff had colon cancer, Leaver had leukemia and Heglund had esophageal cancer. Many believe the diseases were related to their time serving as first responders at the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. FDNY officials say 850 firefighters and ambulance workers at the scene have been diagnosed with cancer since then, related to that work at Ground Zero.
Losing three firefighters on the same day to WTC-related illnesses is a painful reminder that, 13 years later, we continue to pay a terrible price for the Department’s heroic efforts on September 11th,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement.
The FDNY lost 343 firefighters on 9/11 and 92 more since then ‒ including the three men ‒ due to illnesses directly related to contaminated air at Ground Zero, CBS News reported.
“On that day when first responders arrived, the air was toxic and remained toxic for many months afterward,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, according toCBS News.
First responders began showing health problems soon after the attacks, with 99 percent of exposed firefighters reporting at least one new respiratory illness, according to NYC Resources 9/11 Health Statistics.
Rescue workers carry fatally injured New York City Fire Depatment Chaplain, Fether Mychal Judge, from one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City, early September 11, 2001. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
“When he was diagnosed, Robert said he was not a victim but a first responder,” Leaver’s widow, Rosaria, told the New York Post. Her husband was diagnosed in 2003, and retired after serving as a firefighter with Engine 202 in Brooklyn for 20 years. “He said the real victims were the civilians who weren’t first responders. That’s the kind of guy Robert was.”
Leaver and 19-year veteran Bischoff grew up together in Brooklyn, and were close friends. “I felt at least Robert and Howie went off to heaven together,” Rosaria told the New York Daily News.
“To learn that Bobby Leaver who grew up five doors down and was best friends with my brother and our family, passed on the same day, that was really tragic,” Bischoff ‘s brother John told WABC.
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