March 18 (UPI) -- A New York City ferry captain-turned-firefighter who helped hundreds of people evacuate from the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks died on Friday at the age of 45.
Thomas Phelan died of cancer that he developed from toxic fumes at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.
Phelan was a captain of the Statue of Liberty ferry at the time of the attacks. When the planes hit the towers, he turned the ferry around and took part in the "largest evacuation in NYC history" by taking people to the other side of the Hudson River, NYC Fire Wire said in a statement.
"He brought supplies, rescue workers & was a huge part of the operation," NYC Fire Wire said.
Two years later, Phelan joined the New York City Fire Department.
"He would help anyone and everyone any chance he could," wrote Paul Iannizzotto, who worked with Phelan at Engine 55, according to the New York Daily News. "I just can't believe this and honestly don't understand why it's always the good ones we lose way to early. Always a stand up guy, always doing the right thing, and will be sorely missed."
More than 170 FDNY crew members have died of illnesses caught from toxic fumes in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, according to the Uniformed Firefighters Association of Greater New York.
More than 5,400 people have been diagnosed with cancer related to the 9/11 attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.