NY Daily News - December 30, 2009by John Lauinger and Oren Yaniv
Braving icy winds, hundreds of firefighters eulogized colleague Jim Ryan Tuesday as a true 9/11 hero who was snubbed in death by the city he proudly served.
Angered that FDNY brass refused to grant Ryan a line-of-duty funeral, his Bravest comrades made sure his sendoff had all the bells and whistles deserving a fallen first responder.
"What a giant man he was," Keith Younker, who served with Ryan in Engine Co. 320 in Queens, said in a eulogy that left mourners in tears.
Ryan, 48, died Christmas morning from pancreatic cancer his family contends was contracted from spending months after 9/11 in the toxic ruins of the World Trade Center.
But Ryan, who leaves behind a wife and three children, was denied a line-of-duty funeral because the city does not consider his death job-related.
"I think it's a disgrace," said retired FDNY Capt. John McNamara, 65. "This man was killed by the terrorists. The department should get their act together because this won't be the last one."
More than 500 firefighters in dress uniforms stood at attention as Ryan's coffin arrived at the Abiding Presence Lutheran Church in Fort Salonga, L.I., aboard a fire truck.
While the FDNY commissioner and other high-ranking city officials were absent, friends and relatives packed the small church and remembered Ryan as a firefighter's firefighter.
"From the first day that he walked into the firehouse you just knew that he had the makings of an extraordinary fireman," said McNamara, 65, who trained Ryan as a probie back in 1995.
Ryan proved his mettle on 9/11, racing to the World Trade Center and returning every day for six months to diligently search for the fallen, McNamara said.
He was diagnosed with cancer in April 2006 and beat it once, but relapsed in late 2007 after the disease forced him to retire.
Following FDNY tradition, Ryan's fire helmet was given to his tearful widow, Magda.
"He understood what he was up against," Michael Ryan said of his brother's battle with cancer. "He never lost faith and hope."
He said his brother grew up "a middle-class kid from Queens" who idolized firefighters since childhood.
Michael Ryan said his family spent Christmas Eve with his brother recalling more joyous times and praying for a miracle that was not to be.
"It was the greatest Christmas Eve," said Michael Ryan, 50. "I will cherish it for the rest of my life."
Retired firefighter Jeff Teta, 48, recalled how Ryan brought his own shovel, flashlights and other camping gear to search for Ground Zero victims.
"He knew it was his job and he did it," Teta said.
Teta said he was stunned to learn Ryan was not granted the same rites given to all hero firefighters.
"It's kind of like they turned a blind eye to everything and with that blind eye comes a slap in the face," said Teta said.
FDNY officials have said that Ryan's family will receive almost the same benefits granted to members who die in the line of duty.
"The department is saddened by the loss of firefighter Ryan and our prayers and condolences go to his family," said Jim Long, a Fire Department spokesman.
With Katie Nelson