The FDNY announced that three retired firefighters have died on the same day from 9/11 related cancer. The news comes a few weeks after the nation marked the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers in the city.
On Thursday, the FDNY said that three of their finest members have died of cancer they contracted while working at Ground Zero after the attacks on 9/11. According to the announcement, Lt. Howard Bischoff, 58, and firefighters Robert Leaver, 56, and Daniel Heglund, 58, died within hours of one another Monday.
The deaths of the three retired FDNY members bring the total of those who have fallen due to 9/11 related illnesses to 92 and are a reminder of the heavy price the department suffered 13-years after the historic terrorist attacks. The men volunteered to dig up the massive pile in their desperate desire to find colleagues and civilians.
But these men were not only unrelated members of the FDNY, making things even more painful and difficult to bear. They were lifelong best friends — Leaver and Bischoff, from Park Slope, Brooklyn, passed on the same day.
“I felt at least Robert and Howie went off to heaven together,” Leaver’s widow, Rosaria, told the New York Daily News.
FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said losing three members on the same day is “a painful reminder that, 13 years later, we continue to pay a terrible price for the Department’s heroic efforts on September 11th.”
“It’s really a tragedy. September 11th is something that’s affected so many people in so many ways it can never be forgotten,” Christian Bischoff, 17, said and called the death of his father and his colleagues “unbelievable.”
Bischoff — who worked at Ladder 149 in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn — retired in May 2003 after 19 years as a member the FDNY and died from Stage 4 colon cancer.
One of the other three FDNY former members, Leaver, retired in 2004 after 20 years of service. He worked at Engine Co. 202 in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. On September 11, 2001 he was off work, but grabbed his gear and ran toward the burning towers.
“Even after he was first diagnosed with leukemia in 2003, he never wanted to be called a 9/11 victim,” Leaver’s widow said. “He would say, ‘The innocent people in the towers were the victims. Don’t ever call me a victim. I was a first responder.'”
Lt. Heglund, who died one day before his 59th birthday from esophageal cancer that metastasized into his bones, served in the FDNY for 21-years, according to the Daily News. Heglund retired in March 2003 and was diagnosed with cancer two years ago.
“He suffered. He’s been fighting. He put up a good fight,” his brother, FDNY Capt. Paul Heglund said, adding, “About 99.9 percent of us wouldn’t change anything that happened. Even after 9/11 and what went on afterwards, we were firemen, that’s what we do.”
Capt. Heglund said his brother, prior to his death, told him he had no regrets about helping out at Ground Zero.
The three former FDNY members will be laid to rest later this week. Leaver and Heglund’s funeral will take place Friday, while Bischoff’s will be held on Saturday.
[Image via New York Daily News]