NEW YORK (WPIX) – It’s a number that nobody wanted to see repeated, but 343, the number of New York City firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, is now the number of FDNY employees who have lost their lives from illnesses related to that fateful day and its aftermath.
The FDNY commissioner and union leaders alike said that number will only grow with time, which is why they also said it’s imperative that resources to care for first responders from 9/11 stay fully funded.
At a late morning news conference at his headquarters, Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York (UFA) President Andrew Ansbro joined the leader of the city’s other major firefighters’ union, Jim Brosi of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association (UFOA), to mark the milestone.
They said the situation is tragic for their union members in general, but it feels all the more heartbreaking for the families of the recently departed.
“His life and his retirement was cut short,” Ansbro said about Firefighter Robert Fulco, 73, who died over the weekend. He became the 343rd FDNY employee to perish from 9/11-related illnesses.
His death came days after that of Hilda Vannata, 67, an FDNY EMT who also suffered from a 9/11 illness.
“We have long known this day was coming, yet its reality is astounding just the same,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in a statement over the weekend.
“343 of our heroes lost in one day, and today, 343 more,” the statement continued. “The FDNY will never forget them. This is our legacy. This is our promise.”
Vannata and Fulco are part of what Ansbro described as a lengthening list of people getting sick in the two decades since the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There’s an entire whole host of cancers and lung illnesses that affect our members,” Ansbro said. “The number of illnesses keeps growing, and the number of people affected keeps growing.”
It’s why he and Brosi said the need is greater than ever to advocate for thousands of people who were in Lower Manhattan in the weeks and months after 9/11.
Currently, they said, more than 3,000 current or former FDNY workers have some type of cancer. About 8,000 more have some other illness related to their work in Lower Manhattan after the terror attacks.
Right now, the federal 9/11 victims’ health and compensation programs are fully funded, the union presidents said, but they added that the programs need to be regularly refunded by Congress.
The need, going forward, just like the number of people getting sick, will increase. That fact, said Brosi, has him and other advocates concerned, relative to another fact.
“We asked for over $2 billion last year,” he said about his union’s lobbying for funding in Congress, “and we got $600 million.”
He added that Congress needs to make a greater effort in the years ahead to provide assistance at the rates requested.