NY Daily News – October 27, 2017
by THOMAS TRACY
The first time Queens firefighter Robert Tilearcio traveled to Washington, D.C. to fight for the extension of the Zadroga Act, he stood on his own two feet.
The last time he went to the Capitol, he was in a wheelchair, a victim of a 9/11-related illness — the very threat he had worked to protect his brothers from.
Tilearcio, 58, died of a brain tumor on Wednesday, his heartbroken family said.
He joins a growing list of first responders who have died from illnesses linked to their sifting through the remains of the World Trade Center, looking for survivors.
“He died on the same day that we met in 1983,” his widow Tina Tilearcio told the Daily News as she prepared for his funeral.
Tilearcio went to Washington, D.C. about six times to fight for an extension of the Zadroga Act in 2014 and 2015 — even before he was diagnosed with a fatal tumor.
“He went down once in a wheelchair … he could barely stand,” his wife said. “In the beginning he was doing it for others, never knowing that he was fighting for something he would eventually need himself.”
The Zadroga Act was extended in December 2015. With Tilearcio’s help, the health care and compensation for 9/11 illness sufferers will continue through 2090, advocates said.
Tilearcio grew up in a family of firefighters. He joined the department in 1983 and was still assigned to Engine Company 266 in Rockaway Beach, Queens, when he died, his wife said.
“He always wanted to say, ‘I am a firefighter,’” Tina Tilearcio said. “He wanted to work until they threw him out.”
When terrorists flew jumbo jets into the towers, Tilearcio rushed to lower Manhattan and stayed at Ground Zero for more than 48 hours on the bucket brigade, family members said.
“Firefighter Robert Tilearcio was undoubtedly one of New York City’s bravest, and it is with great sadness that we mourn his death today,” Uniformed Firefighter Association President Gerard Fitzgerald said in a statement.
In a “Now This” video posted on YouTube in 2016, Tilearcio bravely discussed his illness as his wife stood by his side.
“I feel what’s going on in me, but I still have enough to go,” he said. “I guess one of these days it will be over with.”
The smoke-eater with the wide smile was also a comedian who had tried his hand at standup in July 2016, roughly a year after his tumor was diagnosed, family members said.
Never one to shy away from an unpleasant subject, he folded his illness into his routine.
“I just smoked some marijuana,” he joked during his set at Stand-Up University. “If I told you why, you wouldn’t believe me.”
Tilearcio is the 15th FDNY member to die from a 9/11 illness this year. Authorities say 159 FDNY personnel and 133 NYPD members have died from 9/11-linked illnesses.
As of August, the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund has distributed $2.8 billion to nearly 17,000 people suffering from cancers or injuries sustained during the 2001 attacks.
Tilearcio leaves behind his wife and two children Tatiana and Robert, who just took the test for the FDNY, family members said.
Services will be held Friday at Massapequa Funeral Home in Massapequa, New York. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Saturday at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Massapequa.