Thomas Phelan was working as a New York ferry captain when the World Trade Center was struck on September 11, 2001. The 45-year-old, who was hailed a hero after saving hundreds of lives that day, died on Friday from cancer believed to be linked to the 9/11 attacks.
Phelan’s bravery has not gone unnoticed. Over the weekend, thousands of people took to social media to mourn his loss. Many commended his fearlessness and heroism.
Read on to learn more about Thomas Phelan.
1. He Died of Cancer That Is Believed to Be Related to the Fumes from Ground Zero
Friends and officials tell the New York Daily News that Phelan’s illness was “related to his exposure to the toxic fumes swirling around Ground Zero.”
Phelan is one of more than 170 people who is believed to have died as a result of an illness related to the 9/11 attacks, according to Fox News.
Since 2001, a number of health programs have been created to monitor the link between exposure to debris at Ground Zero and cancer. According to a 2016 News Week article, doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program have been able to link 70 kinds of cancer to Ground Zero. The outlet writes, “As many as 400,000 people are estimated to be affected by diseases, such as cancers, and mental illnesses linked to September 11. This figure includes those who lived and worked within a mile and a half of Ground Zero in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the vast majority of whom still don’t know they’re at risk.”
2. He Was a Ferry Captain Turned New York City Firefighter
When the Twin Towers were hit in 2001, Phelan was working for the Circle Line Statue of Liberty ferry cruises. In a statement, FDNY spokesman Jim Long told CNN that Phelan helped rescue hundreds of people by ferrying them from Lower Manhattan.
According to NYC Fire & Wire, Phelan “helped evacuate lower Manhattan & rescue many people to the other side of the river.” He “brought supplies, rescue[d] workers & was a huge part of the operation.”
In 2003, Phelan decided to join the FDNY. He was initially signed to Engine Co. 55, and was later promoted to marine patrol. Phelan was then transferred to Marine 9 in Staten Island.
On Friday, NYC Fire Wire posted on Facebook, “It is with regret the department announces the death of Marine Pilot Thomas Phelan, Marine 9. He was appointed May 4th, 2003, death occurred March 16th, 2018. On 9/11/01, Pilot Phelan worked for Statue of Liberty ferry & took part in the largest evacuation in NYC history, as he helped evacuate lower Manhattan & rescue many people to the other side of the river. He brought supplies, rescue workers & was a huge part of the operation. He went on to join the FDNY assigned to Engine 55 then eventually making his way back to the waterways into Marine 9.
Rest in peace, brother.”
3. The Funeral Is Scheduled for Tuesday, March 18
Phelan’s funeral has been set for Tuesday, March 20, at 11 am at St. Michael’s Church in Brooklyn, New York. For more information on the funeral services, click here.
News of Phelan’s death comes just one day after two FDNY firefighters were killed in helicopter crash in Iraq. Christopher Raguso, 39, and Fire Marshal Christopher Zanetis, 37, were aboard a military helicopter that crashed in the midst of a transport mission.
Raguso became a firefighter in 2005, and was promoted to lieutenant in 2016, according to the New York Times. He is survived by his wife and two young daughters.
Zanetis, 37, was a marshal in the Bureau of Fire Investigation. Speaking to the New York Times, Zanetis’ mother, Sarah, explained that her son was a sophomore at New York University during September 11. She shares, “I think that’s what made him become a New York City fireman.”
4. Thousands of People Have Flocked to Social Media to Praise Phelan’s Heroism
Over 52,000 people have shared Fox’s story of Phelan on Facebook. One man wrote, “He was put here for this reason. To be a hero, A true American hero!” Another commented, “RIP Mr. Phelan. I wager that had you known the dangers of toxins, you would have still made the rescues! A TRUE Hero!”
On Twitter, actress Jane Lynch wrote, “RIP Thomas Phelan. Thank you sir, for your service to our country when it needed you most. Ultimate sacrifice. ? ”
Phelan was a Brooklyn native, and graduated from Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School. According to Facebook, he was single at the time of his death.
On January 27, Phelan took to Facebook to share a post about cancer. The post reads, “Stupid cancer… some of us want a new house… A new car… A new mobile phone… to lose weight… But someone battling cancer just wants one thing, to win the battle.”
5. Friends Describe Him as a ‘Stand up Guy’ Who Would ‘Help Anyone and Everyone’
Friends and family speak highly of Phelan’s character. “He would help anyone and everyone any chance he could. I just can’t believe this and honestly, don’t understand why it’s always the good ones we lose way to early.”
On Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to write, “In our city’s darkest hour, @FDNY firefighter Thomas Phelan’s heroism saved hundreds of lives. We will never forget his service and his sacrifice.”