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Friends, family mourn firefighter from Kings Park

The widow of firefighter James Ryan receives his

The widow of firefighter James Ryan receives his helmet as their children look on during funeral services Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2009, in Kings Park. Photo Credit: John Dunn

A funeral for an FDNY firefighter from Kings Park who believed he contracted cancer after working at Ground Zero attracted family, friends and hundreds of firefighters to a Fort Salonga church yesterday.

The Rev. Robert R. Schoepflin addressed an overflow crowd at the Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, where the funeral for Jim Ryan, 48, was held. Ryan died of pancreatic cancer on Christmas Day.

"He was a man who lived his life serving," Schoepflin said. "Not only serving, but putting himself in harm's and danger's path for the sake of others. Here is truly one of the great men of the world."

Ryan, his family and doctors had long asserted his illness was related to his work in toxic debris at Ground Zero in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But the City of New York doesn't consider Ryan's illness and death to be connected to his work at Ground Zero, so he didn't receive a line-of-duty funeral, which would have brought the mayor and other dignitaries to the church.

FDNY firefighter and best friend Keith Younker said he was amazed that Ryan was always able to keep his sense of humor, even in the face of disease.

Younker recounted a story from a time he accompanied Ryan to the hospital for a session of radiation therapy.

"The nurse walked in and said, 'Mr. Ryan, what is in your lap?' " Younker recalled. "He said, 'This is radiation treatment, isn't it?' And she replied, 'Yes.' He said, 'It's microwave popcorn. I want to see if it pops.' "

Ryan spent the night before his death coaching his 9-year-old daughter's basketball game, then going over to a neighbor's house for a party, despite feeling sicker and sicker, said his brother, Mike Ryan.

"His family was sacred," Ryan said. "His friends were to be collected like treasures."

And his fellow firefighters, Mike Ryan said, were also treasures. He said he had never known how many of them thought of Ryan like family.

"I lost a brother," he said, "and so did you."

But hundreds of firefighters, formed an honor guard outside as the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums played for the procession. Ryan's coffin, draped in an FDNY flag, rode atop a Nesconset Fire Department fire engine, and his old ladder number - 167 - was displayed in the window.

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