Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Best Job in the World

And sometimes no Truth is more Powerful 
Than one Expressed in Anger by a melancholy man.
- Pete Hamill 
"Downtown:  My Manhattan"

Jon Stewart went to Washington, D.C. yesterday to advocate on behalf of the thousands of people, including first responders, who are afflicted with 09/11-related illnesses and who will lose the health insurance coverage for their medical expenses, which are often daunting and too often reach the dizzying height of being terrifying, if Congress does not renew the Zadroga Act. He warned the first responders who made the trip with him to be prepared for exposure to "possibly toxic levels of bullshit and arrogance."  

Among the members of the FDNY who trekked south to D.C. yesterday was FF Ray Pfeifer of Engine 40.  An optimist would say that Ray Pfeifer merely being alive here in 2015 is nothing short of a miracle.  But for a decision to swap schedules with his good friend, Mike Otten, Pfeifer would have been at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  FF Otten was there that morning.  He died there.  

FF Ray Pfeifer spent eight months at Ground Zero, leading teams of firefighters in what was first a rescue effort and, thereafter, a recovery effort.  He knows a thing or two about exposure to "toxic levels".  He breathed in the toxins at Ground Zero every day for three-quarters of a year.  He and the people with whom he worked "on the pile" knew that they were visiting harm upon themselves being where they were every day - irrespective of the government's nonsensical and false statements about the air's quality - but what were they to do?  Where else would you have a man who spent in his life working side-by-side with his brothers doing all that he could do to ensure the safety of others spend his days in the aftermath of a disaster that claimed thousands of lives, including 343 of his brothers?  

Approximately six years after the recovery operation at Ground Zero ended, FF Pfeifer was rushed to the hospital with a sharp pain in his chest.  Heart attack?  If only he might have been so lucky.  Doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in his leg that had broken his hip.  He was diagnosed with renal cancer and underwent emergency surgery to replace his hip and part of his femur.  Two days later, he underwent surgery to remove his kidney.  Six additional major surgeries followed thereafter. 

Ray Pfeifer's health forced him to retire in September 2014 after twenty-seven years and two hundred and twenty days on the job in the FDNY.  A heart attack believed to have been related to the chemotherapy regimen he was then receiving proved to be the final straw.  He had hoped to make it all the way to thirty years.  In the year since his retirement, his health has continued to deteriorate.  He has Stage Four cancer.

Through it all and through everything that he has endured, Ray Pfeifer's spirit has proven to be unbreakable.  He still loves the FDNY, the comrades with whom he worked, and the job he considers it to have been his privilege to have performed for close to three decades.  


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