Stop a moment and remember Chief of Fire Prevention Ronald R. Spadafora, who last week became the 178th FDNY member to die of a World Trade Center-related illness.
A one-time Levittown resident, Spadafora, 63, was by all accounts an exemplary firefighter who in a 40-year career provided leadership in the worst of times — from hurricanes to the 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. In 2013, when parts from one of the doomed planes were found near the site, investigators searched again for human remains. “It’s been 11 years,” Spadafora said then, “and it tears away at you.”
The experience 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.
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 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. In 2015, advocates had to beg in Congress for its renewal. The related Victim Compensation Fund is up for renewal in 2020. The programs are the least that can be done.
For now and in the future, remember those like Spadafora, yet another victim of Sept. 11.