More than 100 people gathered at a Rockville Centre church Friday to pay tribute to 9/11 first responder Robert S. Summers, a retired NYPD officer who died this week of cancer officials said he contracted while working at Ground Zero.
Summers, 52, who retired in 2007, was the latest NYPD officer to fall victim to 9/11-related illnesses — 155 deaths to date, according to Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
“We’ve lost more police officers to 9/11 illnesses than we did on the tragic day,” Lynch said after the funeral service at St. Agnes Cathedral.
Twenty three NYPD officers died on Sept. 11, 2001.
Summers, assigned to the traffic division, and fellow officers had rushed to the Twin Towers after the first plane struck that day. He, like others, returned to search for survivors and remains. Friends and colleagues said Summers spent about six months working at Ground Zero.
“They showed up for work every day. They got on that pile and they dug, and they did it to bring people home to their families to make families whole,” said Lynch. “Even though they knew it was the end, they still went in and did it anyway. So, that’s heroic.”
Summers, who joined the NYPD in 1987, was diagnosed with kidney cancer, which Lynch said spread to his bones and his brain.
At the funeral service, Assistant Chief John Cassidy said he got to know Summers really well after Summers retired and moved to the Florida Keys, where Cassidy and his family have been vacationing for more than two decades.
On each visit, Cassidy said Summers went out of his way to make sure he and his family were well cared for.
“And then I realized that it wasn’t that he was doing something special for me,” Cassidy said. “That’s the way he was with everybody. And that’s the most amazing thing about Bobby Summers.”
Summers moved back to Long Island in recent years.
Among the mourners were three of Summers’ colleagues who worked with him at Midtown North in Manhattan in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Summers, they said, was a great friend and a good person who was always available when someone needed help.
John McCann, 51, of Bethpage, a retired NYPD lieutenant, visited Summers two weeks ago.
“We had some nice conversations. He obviously was in pain, but he was in good spirits,” McCann said after the funeral service. “We had a couple of laughs. We all knew that was the last time we were going to speak to him.”