NYPD Firefighters Cancer Death Rate. Robert Alexander and his father, Raymond Alexander, were first responders on September 11, 2001. Raymond was a New York City firefighter, just like his father. Robert was a police officer with the New York police department. Together, the three served their departments for 80 years.
Tragically, that service has cost both Robert and Raymond their lives. Both have died after developing cancer linked to the toxic chemicals that were released after the World Trade Center collapsed. Thousands of first responders in New York City have developed cancers and other life-threatening illnesses after spending weeks searching for survivors in the rubble. Many others who lived in the area around Ground Zero have also been diagnosed with severe illnesses after breathing in toxic fumes.
Ginger Alexander is Raymond’s widow and Robert’s mother. She remembers that she was picking up some tea and a bagel when she first heard that one of the Twin Towers had been hit by a plane. The owner of the coffee shop frantically pointed at a television. At first, Ginger did not know what to think. Was it real? However, after she watched the towers fall on live television, she knew that it was.
Ginger told her coworkers that she would not be at work that day. Next, she called Raymond and Robert. She remembers, “Around 3 o’clock, Ray called and said he and Robert had touched bases.” Ginger spent the rest of the day fielding phone calls from concerned family members, confirming that yes, Robert and Raymond were okay.
Once Raymond and Robert returned back home after working at Ground Zero, the Alexanders thought that they could begin moving forward. Robert resigned from his position with the New York Police Department and accepted a new job with the Fire Department of the City of New York.
However, just two years later, Raymond got sick.
different types of cancer
From 2003 to 2016, Raymond was diagnosed with cancer—seven different types of cancer, to be exact. In 2015, Robert received a devastating diagnosis—doctors had discovered an inoperable brain tumor. Ginger recalled, “We were totally devastated, my husband and I. He and Robert were particularly close because they had so much in common.”
Raymond lost his cancer battle in November of 2016. He was 76 years old.
Nine months later, Ginger and her other son, Raymond Alexander Jr., would be attending Robert’s funeral. He died at 43.
Ginger recalled the family’s trip to Germany in March of 2017. “We spent three weeks in Germany visiting family, and I’m so grateful I had that time with him. He was starting to stumble a bit while we were there, and when we got home, it started his downhill slide.”
In recent months, Robert’s health had declined. He eventually had to use a wheelchair. His puppy, a Vizsla, had trouble recognizing him as the cancer spread.
Ginger said, “So we’d pick her up and put her in Robert’s lap, and as soon as she was that close to him, she’d snuggle into his waist area and take a nap. He loved that dog.”
Ginger added that Robert “was a wonderful baby, a terrific teenager and just a humble human being as an adult. He worked behind the scenes all the time. He was there all the time for everybody.”
Robert and Raymond are the first father and son to succumb to illnesses tied to the September 11 attacks. The Uniformed Firefighters Association, as well as the Alexanders, has stated that the types of cancer Robert and Raymond had been linked to the debris, ash, and carcinogens that hovered in the air after the attacks. Gerard Fitzgerald, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, commented, “We had firefighters show symptoms very early after 9/11 in age groups that they shouldn’t have been showing symptoms for…specifically cancer.”
Fitzgerald added, “The impact of 9/11 is not over, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be over for a long, long time. I can’t imagine how the Alexander family feels, but I would hope that the entire country will keep them in their prayers and remember what happened on that terrible day and what continues to go on here in New York.”
The World Trade Center Health Program, which is overseen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is a program that offers medical care and monitoring for volunteers, workers, and first responders who were involved with recovery and rescue efforts. In addition, the program provides evaluations and medical treatment for those who lived, worked, or attended school in the area around Ground Zero.
The CDC noted that as of June 30, 2017, 7,139 individuals who had registered in the World Trade Center Health Program had been diagnosed with at least one type of cancer eligible for benefits. The majority of this group is first responders—6,028, to be exact. That’s nearly 85 percent of the individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer.
The most common types of cancer eligible for benefits in the program include thyroid cancer, melanoma, lymphoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, and prostate cancer.
In May of 2017, another New York City firefighter lost his life to cancer. Ray Pfeifer was diagnosed with lung cancer and brain cancer. It is believed that these diseases were linked to his work at Ground Zero.
Pfeifer was an active lobbyist, demanding health benefits for those who had been injured by the 9/11 attacks. Pfeifer tirelessly worked on the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act, as well as the World Trade Center Health Program. Under the Zadroga Act, individuals who were directly harmed by the terror attacks are eligible for benefits. The program was named after a detective with the New York Police Department. Zadroga died after being diagnosed with a respiratory disease that stemmed from his efforts at Ground Zero.
Robert Alexander was also vocal about his support for the Zadroga act. He attended rallies and other events in Washington, D.C. when the act was reauthorized.
Fitzgerald commented, “As much as Bobby should be held as being a hero as a New York City police officer and a New York City firefighter, he should be held in high regard for the courage and the strength that he showed in fighting for Zadroga.”
Thousands of New Yorkers—both current residents and those who lived around Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attacks—may be eligible for benefits under the Zadroga Act and the World Trade Center Health Program. The programs provide benefits for individuals who have been diagnosed with certain diseases and ailments. Cancers and respiratory diseases are among the most commonly cited illnesses in beneficiaries.
Those with eligible health conditions may apply for benefits. It is critically important to consult with an attorney to ensure all paperwork and documentation is properly and timely filed, as there are deadlines in place that limit how long claimants have to seek compensation.
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