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NEW ROCHELLE — In the painful aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, New York City firefighter Dan Foley carried the body of his firefighter brother, Tom, from the smoky rubble of Ground Zero.
On Thursday, in a church packed with sorrow, Dan Foley was mourned as another 9/11 casualty — a victim of Ground Zero’s toxic air which brought on the pancreatic cancer that took his life last week.
Foley was 46. He left behind a wife and five children — all of them born in the wake of America's deadliest terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. After a funeral Mass at Holy Family Church in New Rochelle, Foley was laid to rest in a grave next to his brother at St. Anthony Cemetery in Nanuet.
The story of the Foley brothers is yet another horrifying and heartbreaking tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. One brother died in the collapse of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001. The other brother is now part of a growing list of those who have perished since the attacks from cancer and other ailments brought on by the toxins in the rubble.
That double dose of tragedy — and how it continues to haunt the FDNY and our nation — seemed to permeate every minute of Dan Foley’s funeral.
"On average every two weeks we lose a member to World Trade Center Illness," FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a brief interview before Foley's funeral. "The fact that it’s all these years later doesn’t make it any easier."
"It's a tragedy that repeats itself," Nigro added.
FDNY officials say they are already preparing for the day when the number of firefighters who died from Ground Zero ailments — now at 221 — will exceed the 343 who perished on 9/11.
"We see the potential that we'll surpass the 343 by the time of the 20th anniversary," said FDNY spokesman Jim Long, a firefighter who labored at Ground Zero.
"Where does it end?" Long added. "It continues to climb."
As many as 500 firefighters from throughout the region and other mourners lined five blocks leading to Holy Family Catholic Church on Clove Road for the 10:30 a.m. funeral. Frigid gusts whipped at an array of U.S., Irish and FDNY flags. The fire department's Emerald Society bagpipers played the mournful Irish tune, "Going Home," as they led a fire truck carrying Foley's coffin.
In a eulogy, Mark Fenton, who met Foley when the two played football at Iona College, described Foley as a humble hero with a "passion for making a difference."
“When you were with Danny, you felt 10-feet tall and bulletproof,” Fenton said.
Then, turning to the pew with Foley's wife, Carrie, and their children — Erin, 17; Kiera 15; Brianne, 14; Kendall, 7, and Thomas “T.J”, 6 — Fenton added: "Remember that your dad was a real life hero."
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Dan Foley's older brother, Thomas of West Nyack, an aspiring actor, model and amateur rodeo rider, rushed to the burning twin towers of New York City's World Trade Center with seven other members of the FDNY's elite Bronx-based Rescue 3. All were killed when the towers fell.
Dan Foley was off duty when the 9/11 attacks took place. But hearing that his brother was missing, he headed to Ground Zero. When it appeared that Tom had died, Dan made a promise to his parents: He would find his brother's body.
Ten days later, Dan Foley found Tom's remains.
In a tribute to Thomas — known as “Tommy" — Dan Foley then transferred from another Bronx firehouse to Rescue 3. But his time at Rescue 3 was cut short when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year.
Days before that diagnosis, however, Dan Foley rushed to another emergency with Rescue 3 — a burning apartment building in the Bronx where he carried four children to safety, fire officials said.
It was one of his last fire calls.
For his funeral on Thursday, Dan Foley's Rescue 3 fire helmet sat on a wooden stand in front of his coffin. Several feet away, a poster-sized photo of Dan in his FDNY uniform smiled at the congregation.
"Our Lord taught us there is no greater love than to lay down your life for another," said the Rev. Eric Raaser in a homily.
Raaser described Foley's work at Ground Zero as a "testament to love." But noting that Foley's death was caused by his service at Ground Zero when he inhaled too many toxins, Raaser added that "the evil" of 9/11 "sadly is still being felt."
Weeks after finding his brother's body, Dan Foley, with a shovel still in hand and with his uniform covered with harmful dust that would eventually bring on his fatal cancer, was one of dozens of 9/11 first responders photographed by Life Magazine's Joe McNally for a project that came to be known as "Faces of Ground Zero."
Foley's sister, Joanne, was also photographed by McNally for the project, tears streaming down her cheeks as she held Tommy Foley's Rescue 3 helmet and rodeo cowboy hat. Joanne went on to co-direct the 2010 documentary film “Tommy Foley: Legacy of a Young Hero.”
"My heart breaks for them," McNally said in an interview after hearing that Dan Foley had joined his brother as another 9/11 victim.
"What they did back in 9/11 was typically New York," McNally said. "New Yorkers pitch in. They were selfless. They went to help their fellow New Yorkers. To have this come back as sickness is the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard of."
The 2001 attacks killed 2,977 people, 2,606 in Lower Manhattan. But since then, the death toll has mounted dramatically as more first responders continue to be diagnosed with a variety of respiratory ailments and cancers that include lymphoma, leukemia and myeloma.
New York officials now say 221 firefighters including Dan Foley have now lost their lives from illnesses stemming from their time working at the World Trade Center.
Nearly 2,500 others, including police, construction workers and telephone installers, have also died from 9/11-related illnesses, according to the World Trade Center Health Program. Another 10,000 Ground Zero workers and others including nearby residents have been diagnosed with a variety of cancers caused by the noxious air and other contaminants.
Even though he was fighting the early stages of his fatal pancreatic cancer, Dan Foley, accompanied by his wife, journeyed to the White House in July 2019, to watch President Donald Trump sign legislation extending financial aid to those who fall ill from the rescue and recovery efforts at the sites of the terror attacks — in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the Pentagon and Ground Zero.
On Thursday as the funeral ended, and after a rendition of "Danny Boy" by a church singer, Carrie Foley followed behind as Rescue 3 pall bearers carried her husband's coffin down the granite steps of Holy Family Church. She stopped on the sidewalk and clutched the hand of her youngest — 6-year-old T.J.
T.J. squinted in the sunlight. The firefighters lining the street silently saluted. Flags snapped in the wind.
Then a FDNY captain walked forward with Dan Foley's black and green Rescue 3 helmet.
The captain knelt on the sidewalk and gave the helmet to T.J.
Moments later, the bagpipers struck up "America The Beautiful" and led the truck carrying Dan's coffin to the cemetery and his grave next to his brother.