A father, and now a son, both died from 9/11 cancers. They were both first responders to the World Trade Center disaster, and now they are both dead, almost 16 years after the terrorist attacks.
Robert Alexander died at the age of 43 on Aug. 14, after succumbing to brain cancer related to the health risks that many first responders took when they descended upon the burning, smoking debris to help people after the attack, as KTLA 5 reported.
The family has generations of fire department work to look back on. “Robert is a third-generation fireman. His grandfather, his father, and him—80 years (of service) all together,” said Ginger Alexander, Robert’s mother, to KTLA.
Ginger Alexander was getting a bagel and tea when she first found out about the 9/11 terrorists attacks. At first she thought it was the special effects trickery of some TV program. It slowly sank that she, and those around her, were witnessing something real on their TV screens.
At the time of the attacks, her son was a police officer and her husband, Robert Alexander, was a fireman. The family touched base. Father and son both headed to ground zero. Alexander fielded a constant stream of phone calls from extended family to assure them of Robert and Raymond’s safety.
After coming back from ground zero, the family thought the issue was behind them, but Raymond Alexander suddenly fell ill in 2003. From 2003 to 2016, he was diagnosed with seven different cancers. He died last year, at 76.
Son Robert became a firefighter a year after 9/11. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain cancer in 2015. In recent months he had to use a wheelchair. His mother told KTLA her son “was a wonderful baby, a terrific teenager, and just a humble human being as an adult. He worked behind the scenes all the time. He was there all the time for everybody.”
Following his death, Gerard Fitzgerald, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, said in a press release that the younger Alexander was the 11th firefighter to die this year from a 9/11 related illness. Fitzgerald also noted that he was the 142nd firefighter or fire officer to die of a 9/11 related illness since the attacks occurred.
Raymond and Robert Alexander are also the first father and son pair to die from illnesses related to 9/11. Raymond, Robert, and many others faced and continue to face illnesses related to the aftermath of 9/11. Following the attack, ash, debris, and carcinogens filled the air.
“We had firefighters show symptoms very early after 9/11 in age groups that they shouldn’t have been showing symptoms for different diseases, specifically cancer,” said Fitzgerald. “The impact of 9/11 is not over, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be over for a long, long time.”
A firefighter died in May of brain and lung cancer thought to be related to his responder work. He spent years fighting for health benefits for those affected by the attacks, for benefits through both the World Trade Center Health Program and the Zadroga Bill. Robert Alexander also fought for those same benefits.