NY Post - June 29, 2018by Gina Daidone
Before dying from 9/11-related cancer Saturday, hero firefighter Chief Ronald R. Spadafora penned an article about the health risks endured by members of the department, in which he wrote, “I thought I was invincible but I wasn’t,” The Post has learned.
The chief of Fire Prevention passed away at the age of 63. He is the highest-ranking member of the department to die from 9/11-related illness to date.
In the FDNY’s recently released handbook Reduce Your Risk, Spadafora writes, “In conjunction with the increasing toxicity of modern-day fires, cancer deaths among members of the services have risen dramatically during the past two decades.”
The book, dedicated to Spadafora, is part of the Reduce Your Risk Project, established by the FDNY Contamination Reduction Workgroup in 2017. The project is intended to raise awareness of the occupational hazards and medical risks to firefighters.
“I thought I was invincible but I was wrong,” the department veteran writes. “All the years of working on the fireground and during the World Trade Center rescue and recovery operation had taken its toll.”
Spadafora was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in December 2015. He is the 178th member of the FDNY to die of illness from exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site.
“Ron Spadafora was a consummate professional fire chief who bravely served our city for 40 years, and toiled for months at the World Trade Center site after September 11th, leading the Department’s rescue and recovery efforts,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement.
His long-time companion Rhonda Shearer, 64, spoke with The Post about the loss.
“The whole department is reeling,” she said. “He was someone who brought people together. Ronnie was much beloved.”
Shearer met Spadafora at a 9/11 event in 2003.
Regarding his final days, she says he remained strong in the face of illness, “He was a tough guy. I don’t think he complained once.”
Born in Ozone Park, Spadafora joined the FDNY in 1978 and worked various posts throughout the city, rising through the ranks before he was appointed to supervise rescue and recovery at Ground Zero as deputy chief and later as World Trade Center chief of safety. In addition, Spadafora served as head of the department’s Logistics section during the 2003 Blackout and led preparations for Hurricane Sandy in 2012. He was also part of the team involved with assisting the New Orleans Fire Department in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Spadafora taught as an adjunct lecturer at his alma mater, John Jay College, in the fire science program, as well as at Metropolitan College of New York in the emergency and disaster management program.
Chief Spadafora leaves behind a son, Brian, 27.
His funeral will be held Friday at St Thomas Episcopal church in Manhattan.