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Hundreds Bid Final Farewell To Hero 9/11 First Responder Ray Pfeifer

HICKSVILLE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- A funeral was held on Long Island Friday for retired FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died Sunday of 9/11-related cancer at age 59.

Hundreds gathered at the Holy Family Church in Hicksville to bid a final farewell to a man who mourners said was the true definition of living a life of kindness.

Pfeifer was one of the thousands of firefighters who worked for months on the toxic pile at ground zero following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was a selfless dedication that would lead to his cancer diagnosis six years later, a battle Pfeifer fought for eight years.

He worked until the end to help fellow first responders.

Pfeifer humbly dubbed himself the poster child for the Zadroga Act, which secured health care for tens of thousands of recovery workers. His death coincided with this week's announcement that recovery workers will get a permanent dedication at ground zero.

In hospice, Pfeifer raised money for a transport van for other sick first responders. The van is now at the East Meadow firehouse where Pfeifer volunteered since his teens.

"Even when he was diagnosed with cancer, Ray still fought on for his brothers and sisters in the FDNY and all those affected by 9/11 illnesses," said Carl Pugliese, who knew Pfeifer for more than three decades. They served together with the East Meadow Volunteer Fire Department.

"He's done so much good for so many people with the firehouse and toy runs and his antique truck, and then he got involved with the Zadroga bill. Going to Washington, banging on doors and making people listen helped a lot of people who are sick," East Meadow fire Commissioner Bill Neill said.

"We're saying goodbye to a hero who did ordinary things but did it at an extraordinary time, during 9/11," FDNY Chief of Counterterrorism Joseph Pfeifer told CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

"I think Ray left a little bit of himself in all of us, and I think he taught us a little bit more about humanity, and I think that's why we're all crying today," said John Feal of the FealGood Foundation, which helps 9/11 first responders.

Comedian Jon Stewart, who lobbied with Pfeifer for first responder health benefits, delivered the eulogy.

"The irony here is Ray would've loved a day like today where people from all over -- town, city, the country -- pay respect to a man who did right," Stewart said. "Make no mistake, Ray Pfeifer died in the line of duty because of illness in the terrible terrorist attacks of 9/11, but more importantly Ray Pfeifer lived in the line of duty, now and forever."

Pfeifer always carried a stack of prayer cards to honor the hundreds of firefighters he lost on 9/11.

"Now, Ray, I got one, and it's going to teach me how to do right," Stewart said, fighting back tears.

A vintage firetruck Pfeifer restored as a he battled cancer served as his hearse, carrying him for the last time. The truck was given to him as gift from his six siblings.

Pfeifer served more than 27 years with the FDNY. He leaves behind many relatives, including his son, who works for the department as an EMT.

"He was a doer," said his sister, MaryEllen McKee. "And Ray had a way of sucking you in. And once you were in, that was that. You were locked in to a world of doing good for others, too."

Former FDNY Commissioner Sal Cassano told Preifer's family: "Your husband and your dad was a hero not only for the way he bravely fought fires in his career, but the way he lived his life with the thousands of people he helped."

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