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FDNY mourns 9/11 first responder

Firefighters carry the coffin of Vincent J. Albanese,

Firefighters carry the coffin of Vincent J. Albanese, 63, of Huntington Station, who died of cancer. (Aug. 5, 2010) Credit: Howard Schnapp

As bagpipers played "Going Home" under summer's blue skies Thursday, more than 100 New York City firefighters saluting in their formal blue uniforms joined friends and family to say goodbye to Vincent Albanese.

But the death of the retired New York City firefighter, a first responder during the World Trade Center terrorist attacks who later did rescue and recovery at the site, is prompting more calls for funding for ailing 9/11 responders.

Albanese, 63, died of cancer Saturday, a day after Congress voted down a measure that would have provided $7.4 billion to care for 9/11 responders. Albanese's family said they believed his bladder cancer came from working at "the pile," as the site was known. The cancer was first discovered in 2007, during a World Trade Center medical monitoring exam for first responders.

Expressing disappointment at the congressional vote last Friday, Albanese's wife, Christine, said: "The government's turning a deaf ear to this - it's like they've forgotten people are dying."

John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, an advocate for responders who also was hurt while working at Ground Zero, said he has attended 39 funerals of responders who died of cancer and respiratory illnesses in the past four years. Congress let down those who worked to restore the country after the devastating attacks, he said.

"Congress is going back on Tuesday for a special session," Feal said. "It has the ability to put it on the floor on Tuesday and vote like Americans." If not, Feal plans a rally on Sept. 15 when Congress reconvenes.

Thursday, Albanese's oldest daughter, Kelly, of Huntington Station, said she contacted Rep. Steve Israel's office this past Friday to tell him about her father's condition and urge congressional support for the bill. She said she hopes to meet with Israel (D-Huntington), who supports the bill, to discuss what she can do to drum up support.

Thursday, Albanese's good friend and fellow firefighter, Pat Connelly, of Howard Beach, said of Albanese's work at Ground Zero, "Vinny would have been there anyway. All these guys would have. Congress needs to step up."

Kelly Albanese said her father had also gone to New Orleans in 2005 to help with Hurricane Katrina relief work. "He's the type of guy that got things done," she said. "I miss him so much already."

Advocates for 9/11 responders have been rallying for a bill that would help responders with medical needs related to illnesses from Ground Zero work, and allow the government to track those illnesses.

Thursday, an NYPD helicopter flew over Route 110 in Huntington Station as the coffin carrying Albanese, draped with an American flag, was placed in the hearse and the firefighters saluted their friend one last time.

After the burial Mass at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church, family and friends took part in a procession to Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton.

A 38-year member of Ladder 38 in the Bronx and a longtime Army National Guardsman who flew planes and rose to the rank of brigadier general, Albanese was a man of faith and compassion, who could pull off a great practical joke, said his friends.

"He really lived, didn't he?" said FDNY Lt. Joe Huber, who worked with Albanese at Ladder 38 and recalled various pranks Albanese played. "I never met a happier man," Huber said, adding the station lost a "great compass" when he retired.

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