By Bill Parry
The mournful skirl of bagpipes filled the air and nearly a hundred police officers stood at attention as 95th Street and 43rd Avenue in Elmhurst was co-named “P.O. Robert Ehmer Place” last week.
Officer Ehmer died from 9/11-related cancer in 2010 at the age of 47 after an illustrious 20 years on the force, most of them at the 110th Precinct one block away.
“He was a hard-working, reliable, knowledgeable yet quiet and unassuming guy,” Deputy Inspector Ronald Leyson, the current commander of the precinct, said at last Friday’s event. He was also a hero.
Robert Ehmer received 11 medals for excellence during his career and he was awarded another medal posthumously for distinguished service. He supplemented his police work as an emergency medical technician for the former St. John’s Hospital, which closed in 2009.
Ehmer, the EMT, raced to the World Trade Center in his St. John’s ambulance after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“After the second tower collapsed he came back here to the 110, changed into his police uniform and went right back in his squad car,” his sister, Annette Ehmer, said. “He went to work on the pile for four months after that.”
Her older brother retired from the NYPD in 2005 and was found to have Stage 4 renal failure carcinoma nearly two years later. Annette believes the cancer was a direct result of his time working at Ground Zero.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), who sponsored the street co-naming, said, “I grew up in this very neighborhood, so I find it very poignant that his name is on this corner. She added her support for the New York Congressional Delegations efforts to have the Zadroga Act reauthorized.
“All these years later and we’re still losing our heroes,” Ferreras said. “We have to protect those that died because they were protecting us.”
The Zadroga Act provides financial and medical relief to first responders and their families as well as anyone affected by the toxic air that blanketed Manhattan in the weeks following the attacks. The two critical programs are set to expire in October 2015 and October 2016.
“My brother died before those benefits came in,” Annette said. “He had lost his insurance and they put him on Medicare. But I think of all the other first responders who can’t even afford milk because they’re paying out of pocket. They’re sick and they’re dying and they need help. Zadroga’s not perfect but it’s something.”
Deputy Inspector Leyson agreed: “It definitely needs to be extended and not just for police officers. It’s for the firefighters and even the iron workers who worked on the pile.”
According to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand (D-N.Y.), more than 2,900 people have been diagnosed with cancers caused or made worse by the aftermaths of the attacks and nearly 1,350 NYPD and FDNY members are facing serious 9/11-related illnesses and have had to leave their jobs.
Leyson is all too familiar with the issue, having lost Sergeant Paul Ferrara to 9/11-related cancer in August. Ferrara spent the final eight years of his 22-year career at the 110th Precinct. “In a couple of years we’ll be doing all this again,” he said.
Annette Ehmer said her family is proud of her brother’s recognition.
“We’re thrilled that his name is there and he’ll be membered,” she said. “Robert had no children of his own, so this is his legacy, this is what lives on.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.