“He was one of my best friends,” said a somber Keith Palumbo of fellow firefighter James Ryan, who lost his three-year battle against cancer on Christmas day, but, say his colleagues, was denied the proper Line-of-Duty burial that he – and thousands of other first responders – rightfully deserve.
Ryan, with Ladder 167 in Flushing for a dozen years, was down at Ground Zero for weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“He went down that day and then worked shifts,” said Palumbo. “At least 12-hours-a-day.”
It was not until five years later that the father of three fully realized the devastating effects of the toxic air he had breathed.
In 2006 – at only 46 years old – Ryan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He underwent a “Whipple procedure,” in which doctors removed the head of the pancreas, most of the duodenum (a part of the small intestine), a portion of the bile duct and sometimes a portion of the stomach, and then chemotherapy.
He was put on medical leave, said Palumbo, before retiring.
“I thought he beat it,” Palumbo said.
But two years later, Ryan and wife Magda, of Kings Park, LI, got the news that the cancer had spread to his lungs and stomach.
“It was very difficult, seeing him like that,” said Palumbo. “He was the life of the firehouse, [reduced to] a shell of a man.”
By November of this year, according to reports, Ryan had stopped treatments because they had ceased to work.
“He was in pain,” said Palumbo.
On Christmas day, the physical pain ended for Ryan.
He was waked at the Brueggemann Funeral Home in East Northport, L.I. and buried on Tuesday, December 29.
“The city is not recognizing these as Line-of-Duty deaths and not giving the proper Line-of-Duty funerals,” said Palumbo, who, along with the other members of Ladder 167, provided an Honor Guard for Ryan.
“The family is getting the benefits but not the funerals,” he continued, saying, “The family deserves the respect to take comfort in that. It means a lot – to not do that is a disgrace.”
Jim Long, FDNY spokesperson, told The Courier, “We have conveyed our condolences to the Ryan family. Financially and benefit wise, the family will be looked after.”
In fact, a bill in Congress, HR847, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2009, aims “to amend the Public Health Service Act to extend and improve protections and services to individuals directly impacted by the terrorist attack in New York City on September 11, 2001.”
Nevertheless, to Palumbo “they’re not doing the right thing.”