When 28-year-old Thomas Phelan set out to work on September 11, 2001, it seemed like it was going to be like an ordinary day. However, for Phelan, who served as a Circle Line Statue of Liberty ferry captain in New York City, his life would forever be turned on its head as two jet planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers within minutes of each other, plunging America into despair and chaos.
During that day that changed the course of American history forever, Phelan would go from being a lowly ferry captain to being hailed a hero for saving many lives. Phelan proved to be among the many selfless people who put their lives in danger to save those who were at risk of death by the terrorist attack. Phelan helped evacuate people from Lower Manhattan as the World Trade Center towers were burning and later came crashing down, spewing up poisonous debris and gases across New York City.
Phelan helped people by loading them into his ferry and getting them away from Ground Zero. While he was saving their lives, he did not realize he was putting himself in harm’s way. As fate would have it, he was inhaling fumes and chemicals that would later cause cancer.
“He brought supplies, rescue workers and was a huge part of the operation,” a post on the NYC Fire Wire Facebook page reported.
Although the 9/11 terrorist attacks killed 2,977 people across the nation, the death toll continues to rise because first responders to the scene – police officers, firefighters, and EMT workers – were exposed to harmful chemicals that are causing cancer.
Phelan later became a New York City firefighter. He did so after being promoted to a marine pilot. He was among the many brave New Yorkers who rose up to the challenge and saved people’s lives on that dark day in history.
However, he was also among the many people who have been diagnosed with cancer following their brave acts during the 9/11 attacks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s World Trade Center Health Program found that cancer diagnoses spiked among groups of people – firefighters, cops, paramedics – who were exposed to the carcinogens and pollutants in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack.
Phelan died at the early age of 45 on March 16 after battling cancer for years. This is not a fate that he deserved.
Because Phelan proved the type of person he was that day he stood up and saved people’s lives during the darkest day in modern American history, there were many people who wrote tributes to him online. Phil Iannizzotto was one such friend and admirer of Phelan.
“Always a stand-up guy. Always doing the right thing, and will be sorely missed. Rest easy, brother,” Phil wrote. He served with Phelan in the same firehouse.
Maura Buckley wrote a similar tribute to Phelan.
“I’m so sad! A true hero and gentleman.”
Because these heroes risked their lives to help people in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they deserve better than to be forgotten and stricken with cancer.
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