May 28 (UPI) -- Former New York firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who lobbied to fund healthcare for fellow 9/11 first responders while battling terminal cancer, died Sunday. He was 59.
Pfeifer spent eight months combing through rubble at the World Trade Center "looking for friends" following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He succumbed to cancer linked to the toxic plume that hung over Ground Zero in the days after the attack on New York City.
"Ray Pfeifer was a true fighter who bravely battled fires as a New York City firefighter and fought tirelessly for all first responders who -- like him -- suffered from World Trade Center related illness," New York Fire Department commissioner Daniel Nigro said in a statement. "The entire FDNY family deeply mourns his loss."
"With the death of Ray Pfeifer, New York City has lost a hero and an inspiration," tweeted Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presented Pfeifer with a key to the city last year for championing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health Bill. "My prayers are with his family and all of the FDNY."
The Zadroga Bill, which Congress passed in 2010, secured healthcare for more than 100,000 people. It is named for a New York Police Department detective who also worked at Ground Zero.
"I was just the poster boy," Pfeifer said. "But everybody did something."
In December 2015, Congress extended the health program coverage to 2090. More than 33,000 first responders and survivors live with illnesses or injuries related to the attack, according to a Congressional release following the extension.
"You meet very few truly great men in your life. Ray was one of them," tweeted Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "It was a privilege to know Ray and to work with him. My condolences to his family and all of FDNY."