When the terrorist attacks struck the World Trade Center in New York City, hundreds of ordinary men and women came to the rescue. Thomas Phelan was one of them. And he, like so many others, became a hero that day. Now, 17 years later, Phelan has died of cancer.

At the time of the attacks, Phelan worked for the Circle Line Statue of Liberty ferry cruises as a ferry captain. When the attacks hit, Phelan transported people away from Lower Manhattan with his ferry.

Two years later, he became a firefighter, and has served as a marine pilot ever since, according to FDNY spokesman Jim Long.

But even though the World Trade Center attacks happened close to 20 years ago, the deep-reaching effects are still very much alive today. And for many, it’s in the form of cancer.

Cancer is a rampant illness that affects millions of Americans each year. However, Phelan’s cancer is linked to the 9/11 attacks. While it is unknown which cancer Phelan suffered from, he and thousands of others, developed cancer due to their exposure to carcinogens and pollutants after the attacks.

Other 9/11 cancer victims include those who helped in Manhattan, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. These brave individuals worked as volunteers, first responders, cleanup workers and more.

Phelan’s funeral will take place in Brooklyn on Tuesday, and in a tweet from Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor), “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.”

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