FDNY Funeral Sparks Renewed Call to Help 9/11 Responders

Tears and lingering questions on Long Island

By Greg Cergol
|  Thursday, Aug 5, 2010  |  Updated 8:00 PM EDT
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FDNY Funeral Sparks Renewed Call to Help 9/11 Responders

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The funeral for Vincent Albanese (inset).

The sound of muffled drums echoed along New York Avenue in Huntington Station, as a fire truck carrying the casket of Vincent Albanese headed toward St. Hugh of Lincoln Church.

"It's a shame it happened like this," said one mourner.

Albanese, 63, died this past weekend after a battle with cancer.  He had served the FDNY for close to 38 years; all in Ladder 38 in the Bronx.  

Albanese was, mourners believed, the latest victim of 9/11. 

The firefighter had spent months working "the pile" at Ground Zero after terrorists drove planes into the World Trade center in Sept., 2001.  Albanese's friends said the husband and father of two believed his illness was the result of the toxic dust he breathed there.

"He was in perfect health up until then and after 9/11, he had health issues with his lungs first and then all of a sudden with cancer," said friend and FDNY firefighter Marty Tighe. "There has to be something to that."

"His father lived into his nineties, his mother is in her nineties and there's never been a speck of cancer in his family," added friend and fellow first responder, Pat Connolly. "We all know what it was."

Advocates for 9/11 first responders claim more than 900 have died as a result of their work at Ground Zero. 

Despite that, Congress failed last week to approve a more than seven billion dollar bill to aid the first responders.  The contentious vote took place just days before Albanese's death.

"It's embarrassing," said John Feal, the founder of a foundation lobbying for first responders."We are trying to get the bill back for another vote during a special session of Congress next week."

Even Feal admits, however, that's a long shot right now.

"Those idiots in Congress, I wish one of them would have had to stand up on the pile and drag out a body.  Then you would see how they'd vote on that bill," said an angry Pat Connolly.

Vincent Albanese was disappointed by Congress' vote, friends said.

"He always did what he thought was right, without exception," said FDNY Lt. Joe Huber, as he eulogized his former colleague.

"We look at a life like Vinny's and it makes us better."

In addition to his time with the FDNY, Albanese also served as a pilot with the Army Air National Guard, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. He was also known as a prankster and the "patron saint of dogs," friends remembered, because of his work rescuing animals.

"He was courageous, kind and wild," said lifelong friend, Bill Chabina. "He believed in life, always worked to protect life."

Albanese leaves his mother, wife, Chris and daughters Kelly and Jillian.  They wept and held each other as his casket was moved for final burial at Calverton National cemetery. They would find comfort, friends acknowledged, if first responders like Albanese are recognized for their sacrifices.

"We can't forget," concluded Pat Connolly. "We can't forget the price these people are paying."

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