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9/11-related illnesses have now killed same number of FDNY firefighters as day of attacks: "An ongoing tragedy"

FDNY members lost to 9/11-related illnesses equals number who died in attack
FDNY members lost to 9/11-related illnesses equals number who died in attack 00:36

Two more firefighters have died from illnesses related to their work at the World Trade Center during and after the 9/11 terror attacks, officials announced on Sunday. Their deaths bring the overall toll linked to 9/11-related diseases among members of the Fire Department of the City of New York to 343, which is equal to the number of FDNY members who died on the day of the attacks, the department said.

This September marked 22 years since the attacks, which killed nearly 3,000 people. Ahead of the date this year, the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York said the number of FDNY members who had died of illnesses related to 9/11 was approaching the number of FDNY deaths recorded on 9/11 alone. It was 341 at the time.

"Since marking the 22nd anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks earlier this month, we have experienced the loss of two more FDNY members due to World Trade Center illnesses, our 342 and 343 deaths," said Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in a statement, which FDNY shared on Instagram

"We have long known this day was coming, yet its reality is astounding just the same," the statement continued. "With these deaths, we have reached a somber, remarkable milestone. We have now suffered the same number of deaths post September 11th as we experienced that day when the north and south towers fell. Our hearts break for the families of these members, and all who loved them."

FDNY EMT Hilda Vannata and retired firefighter Robert Fulco both passed away of 9/11-related illnesses. FDNY via CBS New York

Hilda Luz Vannata, who joined FDNY in 1988 and worked as an emergency services technician with the department for 26 years, died last Wednesday, Sept. 20, from complications of 9/11-related pancreatic cancer, according to her obituary. She was 67. 

Robert Fulco, a retired FDNY firefighter, died from pulmonary fibrosis on Saturday, Sept. 23, at 73 years old, according to FDNY and an obituary accompanying plans for his memorial service. Pulmonary fibrosis is a chronic disease where tissue surrounding the air sacs in the lungs becomes thickened and scarred. It can be brought on by exposure to certain toxins, including asbestos, coal dust or silica, the American Lung Association notes.

Both Vannata and Fulco's deaths were "a result of time they spent working in the rescue and recovery at the World Trade Center site," according to FDNY. Kavanagh said that 11,000 others involved in the emergency response to 9/11 still suffer from illnesses related to their work at the World Trade Center. Of them, 3,500 have cancer.

"In the coming days, we will bury the 343rd member of FDNY that passed after September 11, 2001. But sadly he will not be the last," said Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, a union representing New York City firefighters, during a news conference on Monday. "There are thousands of New York City firefighters and other people related to the cleanup that have been diagnosed with cancer, and the numbers will continue to climb for us without an end in sight."

Ansbro and James Brosi, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, both called for increased funding to the FDNY World Trade Center Health Program, which aims to "provide comprehensive physical and mental health services to all active and retired FDNY members who responded to the 9/11 attacks," according to its website.

"On September 11, for most people, it's a part of history," Ansbro said. "For New York City firefighters, it continues to be an ongoing tragedy as we care for our sick and continue to bury our dead." 

9/11: The FDNY | 60 Minutes Full Episode 43:18
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