Thomas Phelan, a former ferry captain-turned-firefighter who helped save hundreds of people from Lower Manhattan during the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, died at the age of 45, reports said Sunday.
Phelan died from cancer Friday, officials confirmed. He joined the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) in 2003, less than two years after he helped evacuate scores of people during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
Officials and friends claimed Phelan’s illness was believed to be connected to time when he was exposed to toxic fumes around Ground Zero, the New York Daily News reported.
Phelan was working as a Statue of Liberty ferry captain during the 9/11 attack and used his boat to help people escape to the other side of the Hudson River, according to New York State Sen. Martin Golden.
“I am very saddened to hear about the passing of Firefighter Thomas Phelan. Mr. Phelan, who was working as a ferry boat captain at the time, used his boat to evacuate hundreds of New Yorkers on September 11. He joined the #FDNY in 2003. Thomas will always be remembered as a true New York City hero,” Golden wrote in a Facebook post.
Phelan turned his tour boat into a rescue vessel on the day of the attack, playing a pivotal role in one of history’s largest evacuations.
“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,” the NYC Fire Wire Facebook page said in a tribute to Phelan.
According to Fox News, Phelan is one among more than 170 people believed to have died as a result of an illness related to the 9/11 terror attacks.
A number of health programs were created in order to monitor the link between exposure to debris at Ground Zero and cancer. Doctors with the World Trade Center Health Program linked almost 70 types of cancer to Ground Zero, according to Daily Mail.
“The diseases stemming from the World Trade Center attacks include almost all lung diseases, almost all cancers – such as issues of the upper airways, gastroesophageal acid reflux disease, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, panic and adjustment disorders,” Dr. David Prezant, co-director for the Fire Department of the City of New York’s World Trade Center Medical Monitoring Program said.
Mark Farfel, director of the World Trade Center Health Registry, said: “Many people don’t connect the symptoms they have today to September 11.”
In 2001, Phelan was working for the Circle Line Statue of Liberty ferry cruises. He then joined the FDNY in May 2003 and was initially assigned to Engine Co. 55. Eventually, he was promoted to marine patrol and then transferred to Marine 9 in Staten Island.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also offered his condolences on Twitter saying: “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.”