A funeral will take place Monday, March 20 for FDNY EMS Paramedic Deborah Reeve, who died Wednesday of a rare lung cancer that her doctor and family attribute to her work at Ground Zero after 9/11.
Reeve spent several months at the Ground Zero morgue sorting debris and body parts. She started to get sick in late 2003, suffering breathing problems and chest pain, and was diagnosed with mesothelioma, said Marianne Pizzitola, benefit and pension coordinator for Local 3621.
Reeve fought the cancer and hoped for rehabilitation until just days before her death, Pizzitola said. She sat with Reeve on Friday, March 10 after she was told she should not go to a rehabilitation center, but to a hospice, to make her last days as comfortable as possible. Reeve's former ambulance and colleagues transferred her to the hospice the following Monday, and she passed away there Wednesday afternoon.
She was 41 years old, and is survived by her husband David, also an FDNY EMS paramedic, and their children, Elizabeth, 10, and Mark, 6.
Reeve was the first female to die post 9/11 of a 9/11 injury, and the first Ground Zero worker to be awarded a disability pension from the state retirement system under a bill signed by New York Gov. George Pataki last year, but she died before seeing payment. The city denied her request for worker's compensation benefits.
Pizzitola said Reeve's death has been declared an administrative line of duty death by the FDNY, because she did not die at work. She said the department is paying for her funeral and awarding her family a death benefit, but not providing a full departmental funeral.
"She was such a fun person. She was caring, knew her protocols and loved doing her job," Pizzitola said. "You knew that if you had an eight-hour shift with her, it was going to be a good day. "
She said Reeve was also a spiritual person, which helped her through her ordeal.
Reeve is the third FDNY EMS member to die of an illness linked to 9/11. The first two were Timothy Keller and Felix Hernandez. Pizzitola said her greatest fear is that this may only the tip of the iceberg. "I'm in the same age group, and we're not supposed to be burying our friends at this age," she said. "EMS people - we don't die like this. This is not common."
Pizzitola said it is important that these workers be recognized by the fire department and the city, and that they be awarded the benefits and pensions they deserve, because their struggles will be remembered.
"It's scary for every EMS system in the country," she said, "because you never know where the next disaster will strike, and you never, ever want rescue workers to think -- what happens if I respond to this?"
The funeral for Deborah Reeve will take place Monday at 9 a.m. at San Andres Presbyterian Church at 351 Soundview Ave, Bronx, NY at the cross street of Patterson Ave. For more information, contact Local 2507 at (718) 371-0310.