An FDNY firefighter and 9/11 response hero passed away on Jan. 9 after battling bone-marrow cancer believed to be caused by his time at Ground Zero.
Roy Chelsen of Engine 28 is credited by his colleagues for saving numerous members of his company by ushering them out of the North Tower before its collapse. He was also known by many in the fire service for his efforts to establish a registry of potential bone-marrow donors both for himself and for others.
The date of his death was 1/9/11, a poignant coincidence, noted friend and colleague Kevin Murray.
"Personally, he saved my life on 9/11 so I have a different feeling about Roy than most guys. He was probably the toughest guy in the firehouse," Murray said. "To see him get stricken was a big deal to us."
Chelsen retired in 2006 due to the cancer, and his death came despite the discovery of a long sought-after match and transplant administered on Dec. 3, 2010. He was 51.
"We thought he would pull out of it but it didn't work out that way," Murray said.
Fellow firefighter Bob Alverson added, "He fought harder than I ever saw anyone fight for anything, and never complained about anything." He would get chemotherapy one day and be out chopping wood the next, Alverson said.
Chelsen had wanted the registry efforts to continue on to help others, so those friends and family involved hope to do so in some form, Murray said. There are a few thousand people on the registry now, he said.
Chelsen was also on the forefront of trying to get legislation passed so other people wouldn't have to go through what he did, Alverson said. His death came just eight days after the signing of President Obama's 9/11 bill to provide five years of free healthcare and compensation to thousands of sick responders and survivors.
Within weeks after Sept.11, FDNY had established an office to track personnel health for those worried about what they may have came in contact with, said Jim Long, an FDNY spokesman.
To date, Chelsen and 25 other FDNY firefighters and one FDNY EMS provider who were sickened at the World Trade Center site are receiving benefits from the department. Two other cases are pending, he said.
On Monday, Chelsen's name was added to the USFA on-duty firefighter database -- a first for a firefighter cancer death.
"Some people use the word 'hero' very easily," Murray said, "but Roy definitely was a hero."