Beloved FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died of 9/11-linked cancer, remembered for his heroism at funeral
Ray Pfeifer died this past Sunday at age 59, the end of a decade-long fight for survival after he contracted cancer while working on the tainted pile at the World Trade Center site.
FDNY hero Ray Pfeifer was remembered with laughter and tears at a Friday funeral where the victim of toxic Ground Zero was hailed for his heroism both on and off the job.
“Make no mistake: Ray Pfeifer died in the line of duty because of the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11,” said comedian Jon Stewart, who became the firefighter’s partner in Washington lobbying efforts to win health care for first responders.
“But more importantly, Ray Pfeifer lived in the line of duty, now and forever. That’s what I remember most about him.”
Stewart held a prayer card from the funeral aloft before leaving the pulpit in tears.
“The irony is Ray would have loved a day like today, where people from all over — the town, the city, the country — pay respect to a man who did right,” said Stewart.
“And then when you’d say, ‘Ray, it’s for you,” he’d say, ‘I’m just a kid from Levittown.’ It’s almost like he didn’t know how special he was. But he was.”
Pfeifer died this past Sunday at age 59, the end of a decade-long fight for survival after he contracted cancer while working on the tainted pile at the World Trade Center site. He was diagnosed in 2007.
He left behind a wife, a daughter and a son who works as an FDNY EMT. Pfeifer’s two goddaughters did the readings at the packed funeral Mass.
The Hicksville, L.I., resident spent eight months digging through the rubble in search of his lost FDNY brothers, including many close friends among the 343 department fatalities.
Despite losing a kidney and part of a leg to his illness, the indefatigable Pfeifer made 14 lobbying trips to Washington in support of the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act.
Ex-FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano recalled Pfeifer as part bulldog, part teddy bear as he cajoled politicians into supporting the legislation.
Pfeifer seemed genuinely surprised by the praise that accompanied his work to take care of everyone afflicted with a 9/11-related health issue.
“He would say, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting all these accolades, I’m just a firefighter,’” said Cassano. “But that was Ray … He was there to help them all.”
Pfeifer’s FDNY helmet rested on the altar at the Holy Family Church in Hicksville for the morning service. His sister Maryellen McKee drew laughs from the crowd as she urged the mourners to celebrate Ray’s life.
“The stories you will have to share paint a picture of a man who will forever be loved and highly respected,” she said. “And quite frankly, I will not be surprised to see next May 28 become ‘National Ray Day.’
Stewart recalled how he and Pfeifer made the Congressional rounds to drum up support for all the workers whose efforts at Ground Zero were repaid with crippling illness.
“He chased a senator from Ohio … he sent that wheelchair into a gear I had never seen before,” said Stewart. “It took off like a funny car.
“Fifteen minutes later, the guy signed onto the 9/11 bill. Fifteen minutes with Ray.”