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9/11-Related Illnesses Continue To Plague Firefighters, Police, EMTs And Other Rescuers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The anniversary of the September 11th attacks is just two days away. Now 18 years later, there are still 33,000 first responders who suffer from related illnesses and injuries.

CBS2's Natalie Duddridge spoke with firefighters about how they're helping each other cope.

Matthew Desjardin of the Uniformed Firefighters Association works directly with victims and their families.

"It never gets easier. Every time we have a new one. We have just a new firefighter now in Queens, he came down and got sick," he said. "I hope to God it slows down but from what we're seeing it doesn't look like it's going to."

In the tragedy, 343 firefighters died while responding to the attacks in 2001. Years since, thousands of first responders died from cancers caused by toxic fumes.

MORE: FDNY Adds 22 Names To Memorial Wall Honoring Service At WTC Ground Zero After 9/11

Officials say two-thirds of all World Trade Center responders have at least one certified 9/11-related health condition.

Det. Luis Alvarez CBS News Interview
A wake is planned today for 9/11 first responder and victim rights advocate Lou Alvarez. (Photo via CBS2)

"We're at 204 in just the FDNY alone, and the NYPD's at 241, so I mean, the number of first responders that have died post-9/11 is greater," said Bobby Eustace of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

That number includes NYPD detective Lou Alvarez who became the face of the crisis.

Memorial Wall Ceremony

"You all said you would never forget. Well, I'm here to make sure that you don't," said Alvarez during his push for 9/11 Health Funding just before his death in June.

The Senate didn't: In July, the Victim's Compensation Act passed with funding through 2092, essentially making it permanent - a major comfort to those who came to the rescue on one of America's darkest days.

Another silver lining -- there are currently 13 FDNY probies graduating next week. All are the children of firefighters who were killed on 9/11 or died from related illnesses.

The message now from the veteran firefighters is do not forget the brave heroes who saved lives and would do it again.

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