Monday, May 14, 2007

Ground Zero hero loses cancer fight

Detective sued city to change pensions after 9/11

NYPD Detective Robert Williamson shows photo of himself at The Pile.

A retired NYPD street detective who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer after toiling at Ground Zero died of the disease yesterday, his wife and the detectives' union president said.

Robert Williamson, 46, died at his Nanuet, Rockland County, home four years after his March 2003 diagnosis, said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives' Endowment Association.

Beginning the day of the 9/11 attacks and for three months after, Williamson spent 16-hour days performing rescue and recovery operations at the World Trade Center site, his sergeant, Michael Kelley, said yesterday.

"He was down on The Pile every single day" for the first two months after the twin towers' collapse, and then five days a week in the third month, Kelley said.

"Some guys took breaks; he was down there digging," Kelley said. "It didn't faze him a bit."

Williamson was among more than 1,700 cops and firefighters who sued the city to change the pension system after the disaster, Palladino said, adding that the married father of three worked "well beyond the required 40 hours at Ground Zero to qualify for a disability pension."

"He is one of the first officers who was deemed disabled as a result of his assignment on 9/11, and now that disability has claimed his life," Palladino said.

Sounding sad but stoic, Williamson's widow said the Emergency Service Unit cops never forgot her husband, even though he retired in 2002. The couple's children are 10, 12 and 15.

"They provided transportation to and from the hospital and brought oxygen tanks and a hospice to the house," Maureen Williamson said. NYPD Supervising Chief Surgeon Eli Kleinman would not comment specifically on Williamson's death.

"As far as we know, there are no particular cancers in the medical literature related to 9/11," Kleinman said. "We're following it very closely."

Williamson's attorney Michael Barasch said Williamson and other Ground Zero workers were "as much victims of the disaster as the 343 firefighters and 2,700-odd people who died" on 9/11. But before he died, Williamson said he would have worked at the site again.

"Did I know the air was not safe? Yes. Would I go down there again today knowing that? Yes. A lot of people made sacrifices," Williamson told the Daily News in 2004. "I might be a casualty of 9/11, but at least I had a few more years with my family."

A funeral is planned for Wednesday.

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