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OpinionEditorial

The heartbreak of 9/11 goes on still

Chief Ronald Spadafora, 63, was by all accounts an exemplary firefighter who in a 40-year career provided leadership in this city in the worst of times

FDNY Chief Ronald Spadafora died of a 9/11-related

FDNY Chief Ronald Spadafora died of a 9/11-related illness at age 63. Photo Credit: New York City Fire Department (FDNY)

Stop a moment and remember Chief of Fire Prevention Ronald Spadafora, who last week became the 178th member of the FDNY to die of a World Trade Center-related illness.

Born in Queens, Spadafora, 63, was by all accounts an exemplary firefighter who in a 40-year career provided leadership in this city in the worst of times — hurricanes, blackouts and those many, many fires in every borough that are routine in his line of work.

But one of those crowning moments of service came after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, when Spadafora supervised rescue and recovery efforts at Ground Zero. He was described as a “constant fixture” there at the time, and his work was grueling and long-lasting. More than a decade later, in 2013, when parts from one of the doomed planes were found near the site, investigators searched once again for human remains. “We’ve been doing this from the beginning . . . the raking and sifting,” Spadafora said then. “It’s been 11 years, and it tears away at you.”

The experience physically tore away at Spadafora and other emergency workers who developed life-threatening illnesses working among that hazardous material.

We are now more than 16 years past the attack on the World Trade Center, but it is chilling to continue to see the toll of that awful day. Now the suffering takes place in hospital rooms and homes, as long illnesses run their course.

There are no good estimates of how many NYPD and FDNY and other emergency personnel will die prematurely because of their work at Ground Zero, but surely there will be a 179th and 180th firefighter, and a 159th NYPD member, and possibly hundreds more. Thousands of responders have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers as certified by the Zadroga Act, the 2010 legislation that created the World Trade Center Health Program. Advocates have had to beg in Congress for its renewal. The related Victim Compensation Fund comes up for renewal in 2020. The programs are the least the nation can do.

For now and in the future, remember those like Spadafora, yet another victim of Sept. 11.

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