They were healthy, with no history of cancer in the family, but within a year of each other, a father and son have died—the 76-year-old dad last year after fighting seven different cancers over 13 years. The common link: Both Raymond Alexander and his son, Robert, who died Monday at 43 of brain cancer, were 9/11 first responders, per the Washington Post. The firefighters' deaths make it "the first time, post September 11, 2001, where the 9/11 attacks have claimed the lives of two generations in a single family," notes a statement from the Uniformed Firefighters Association president. Raymond, with the FDNY at the time, and Robert, an NYPD officer, both were off on 9/11, but they rushed to the scene and worked in the poisonous debris for days. Raymond's struggle with various forms of cancer began a couple of years later, and Robert was diagnosed with a brain tumor in November 2014.
The UFA statement notes the nearly 150 firefighters and fire officers who've since died from 9/11-linked illnesses. Robert was an active lobbyist, even in his last days, for reupping legislation to pay for medical costs of first responders made ill from 9/11's toxins. Through their jobs of public service, then their illnesses, the Alexanders (described by loved ones as "quiet, humble men of few words") forged a "deeper connection than I could understand," Robert's brother Raymond tells the Post. In 2015, Robert told the New York Daily News that, despite his illness, he never regretted heading to Ground Zero. "I would do it again," he said. His fellow firefighters today recognize that dedication. "New York City and the country will never forget the sacrifices that Bobby, his father, and many more of our brave firefighters have made," the UFA statement reads. (Another 9/11 victim was just ID'd this summer.)