John Elges, a retired Long Beach volunteer fire captain and FDNY firefighter, died Sept. 15 of 9/11-related cancer after a career with three bravery citations for searching for survivors at Ground Zero.
Elges, 60, of Littleton, North Carolina, served 24 years with the New York City Fire Department before retiring in 2009. He also spent 17 years as a Long Beach ladder truck captain during that time. FDNY officials confirmed he died of a 9/11 related illness.
He was diagnosed in 2015 with throat cancer that later spread to his lungs and brain. Family members said the illness was tied to carcinogens from sifting through the rubble for nine days at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.
“He was a big man in every way. He lived big, he loved big and he cried big,” said his wife, Nuala Elges. “He came back a broken man, crying. Once he was diagnosed with cancer, he never wanted to be called a hero. He said he was doing what everyone else would do.”
Elges was born in Far Rockaway and graduated from Beach Channel High School. He worked as a carpenter before joining the fire department in 1985. He joined Long Beach as a volunteer in 1989.
Long Beach Fire Commissioner Scott Kemins said Elges was a low-key family man who was a passionate firefighter and worked to train younger firefighters.
“He was a dedicated firefighter in the city and here,” Kemins said. “He chose to give back to the community by volunteering his time and expertise from New York City.”
Elges and 12 other firefighters from his station at Ladder Company 134 in Far Rockaway rushed to Ground Zero the day after the attacks. They worked on the pile for nine days, but found no survivors, his wife said. His family said he continued to go to funerals and wakes for several weeks, and he was amazed at the kindness from the community.
He retired after multiple knee and shoulder surgeries and moved with his wife to North Carolina. His wife said he had no regrets from his work, only that his family had to see him face illness. He had a brain tumor removed in December.
“My faith has been shattered, but God knew what was ahead of him and spared him the pain and suffering,” Elges said.
Elges is survived by his wife and their four children, John Elges of Island Park; Jessica Wallace of Hampton, Virginia; and Tommy Donnelly and Krysten Lampa, both of Long Beach. He is also survived by his brothers Robert Elges of Long Beach and Tommy Elges of Far Rockaway, and his sister, Linda Silagyi of Covington, Georgia.
A funeral is planned for 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Ignatius Martyr Church in Long Beach.