By ADAM ZAKI
Among the heroes for whom the bell tolled on Friday, the 19th anniversary of the treacherous 9/11 attacks, were 27 new names etched in polished brass on the Memorial Wall of 27 New York City firefighters who recently succumbed to illnesses contracted as first responders in those fateful days.
So the list grows.
The names were added Wednesday in a private ceremony staged by the fire department on that downtown hallowed ground. They included Firefighter Richard Tangretta. He was a typical member of the bravest and he might stand for the 26 others, living on borrowed time. This is part of his story.
While receiving treatment for a serious motorcycle accident in 2017, Tangretta was awarded the Helen Hayes MacArthur Rose Award by Helen Hayes Hospital, in West Haverstraw, N.Y., an award meant to honor “the individuals who help and inspire other people to live their lives to their fullest potential.”
He beat an undisclosed type of cancer prior to his motorcycle crash, The brawny “Rickie”, with his bushy gray van dyke, called the FDNY “the best job in the world”. He had saved lives, beaten cancer, and lost a limb; while still being able to tell his family and friends about it.
But his remission was only temporary. The cancer soon returned, and he died last September at the age of 65.
Tangretta was a hero. A father of four, a city firefighter for 26 years who also earned the rank of Chief in the Pine Bush Volunteer Fire Department over 27 years of service.
“His life has been nothing but an example of resilience, strength, and devotion,” Pine Bush Fire Chief Michael Mataraza told The Firehouse after Tangretta’s death. “We are humbled, privileged and honored to have served with him. We are even more honored to consider him our friend.
”Know that while we are not physically in his space, each and every one of you are in our hearts” said Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro at the virtual ceremony that added the names to a plaque dedicated to firefighters who have lost their lives from 9/11 related illnesses. “We as a department have emphatically said that as long as there is an FDNY, we will always remember those who have given their lives in service to our great city.”
Many of the first responders who have been diagnosed with diseases related to their service on 9/11 have fought for access to medical care to treat their conditions. The 19-year fight goes on and every year the number of names on the wall grows.
The struggle for the access to funds to help pay the medical costs of those who have suffered from conditions related to Ground Zero hasn’t been easy. After failing to pass in 2006, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 finally guaranteed access to almost $2 billion.
The program then expired in 2015, but comedian Jon Stewart used his notoriety to go to congress and get the bill reinstated for 75 years.
When the program tried to cut pending and new claims by over 50% in February 2019, Stewart again came to the aid of the first responders, famously testifying on the House Judiciary Committee, demanding additional funding. The day after Stewart’s speech, the committee unanimously voted to fully reauthorize the fund.
Stewart criticized the government for apparently abandoning first responders. “It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign but it’s not,” he said. “Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
Those to be added to the memorial wall are:
Firefighter Owen T. Carlock Ladder 122
Firefighter Robert M. Gless Engine 329
Firefighter John B. O’Brien Engine 329
Firefighter James J. Hurson Engine 318
Captain Robert E. Collis Engine 304
Firefighter Joseph Walsh Ladder 32
Auto Mechanic James J. Sottile Shops
Firefighter Joseph R. Losinno Engine 302
Firefighter Robert B. Fitzgibbon Engine 47
Firefighter Walter E. McKee Battalion 39
Firefighter John W. Boyle Rescue 1
Firefighter Roger Espinal Engine 320
Firefighter Richard J. Tanagretta Rescue 5
Firefighter Andrew S. Gargiulo Engine 160
Lieutenant Richard G. Estreicher Engine 248