EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — On Long Island Thursday, hundreds of people paid tribute to a man who has been called a true hero.
As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, FDNY veteran Ray Pfeifer died of a 9/11-related cancer this past Sunday. He was 59 years old.
There was a salute to Pfeifer’s family at his visitation Thursday from those who rode out the journey with him.
Pfeifer worked for months on the toxic pile at ground zero, and as a result, battled cancer for eight years. But throughout that time, he was on a quest to create good from colossal horror.
“I think it’s the atrocities that he’s seen and what he’s lived through, and when he got cancer, he figured out what his purpose was,” said Pfeifer’s sister, Maryellen McKee. “Nothing, nothing stopped him.”
CBS2 talked with Pfeifer in April.
“I always say do the right thing – even when nobody’s looking,” Pfeifer said at the time.
In hospice, Pfeifer raised money for a transport van for other sick first responders. The van is now at the East Meadow firehouse where Pfeifer volunteered since his teens.
Hundreds attended his wake, including a Marine with battlefield-related cancer who never met Pfeifer.
“I look at the work that they’ve done to help other families, and it makes me feel like I can do that, said U.S. Marines Health Advocate Edward Schrank.
Pfeifer humbly dubbed himself the poster child for the Zadroga Act, which secured health care for tens of thousands of recovery workers. His death coincided with this week’s announcement that recovery workers will get a permanent dedication at ground zero.
“When we go there, that makes me feel patriotic. That makes me feel American. That makes me feel that that I was part of something special,” said John Feal of the Fealgood Foundation.
Pfeifer epitomized that something by giving more than he took, with a bucket list full of acts of kindness.
“There’s many people out there that idolize sports, you know sports players and celebrities. They need to idolize people more like Ray,” said Michael O’Connell of the FDNY. “Ray Pfeifer was the greatest person ever.”
“An overwhelming desire just to help everyone in need, and that’s the kind of guy he was,” said Pfeifer’s son, Terance Pfeifer.
An antique fire truck was given to Pfeifer as gift from his six siblings. Pfeifer restored it while fighting cancer, and on Friday, it will serve as a unique hearse for an extraordinary man.
Comedian Jon Stewart, who lobbied with Pfeifer, will deliver a eulogy at Pfeifer’s funeral on Friday in Hicksville.