On Saturday morning, retired Firefighter Robert Fulco died of pulmonary fibrosis that was linked to the toxic cloud swirling above Ground Zero in the days and weeks after the terror attacks.
Fulco was the 343rd retired and active FDNY member to die of a 9/11 illness, officials said. On Wednesday, retired EMT Hilda Vanatta died of a 9/11-related cancer, department officials said.
Vanatta, 67, joined EMS in 1988, eight years before its merger with the FDNY, colleagues said. She spent most of her career working at EMS Station 14 in the Bronx and served the FDNY for 27 years before retiring in 2015, officials said.
“We have long known this day was coming, yet its reality is astounding just the same,” Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said Saturday. “With these deaths, we have reached a somber, remarkable milestone. We have now suffered the same number of deaths post Sept. 11 as we experienced that day when the north and south towers fell.”
Currently, 11,000 active and retired FDNY members have a diagnosed World Trade Center disease. Out of that number 3,500 are suffering from cancer, officials said.
“Our commitment to their service and sacrifice must remain as unshakeable for the next two decades as it has been for the last two,” Kavanagh said.
Those suffering include FDNY Chaplain Msgr. John Delendick, who, despite suffering from an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer attended a special 9/11 anniversary ceremony earlier this month, where 43 more names were added to the department’s FDNY World Trade Center Memorial Wall.
The 43 names added to the wall this year was the second-largest group since the memorial was created in 2011 when 55 names were put up, FDNY officials said.
“I’ve been burying all these people — I don’t know how many,” Delendick told the Daily News at the time. “In a sense, my relationship with those that died after 9/11 has changed quite a bit. Because now, I’m one of them.”
On the day of the Sept. 11 attacks, the death toll at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the crash of United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania was 2,977 people. The World Trade Center attacks took the largest toll that day — 2,753 people died after two jetliners hit the twin towers.
The World Trade Center death toll has grown — officials estimate that more than 6,400 first responders, volunteers and survivors have died from an illness or cancer linked to their time at Ground Zero, according to the World Trade Center Health Program.
As the number of 9/11 illness deaths exceed the number of FDNY members who died that way, the Bravest who ran to the Twin Towers that day or assisted in the recovery efforts consider themselves “ticking time bombs,” retired FDNY Chief Richard Alles said.
“It’s just a profound reality that’s made all of us take a step back to appreciate life on a daily basis — to accept each day as a gift because we don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring,” he said. “We lost a catastrophic number on 9/11, but now 22 years later, we’re still losing member after member. It’s happened all over again, but in slow motion.”
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