Thomas Phelan's life followed a different trajectory to that of many other 9/11 heroes: He was a hero who became a firefighter. On the day of the attacks, Phelan, who has died of cancer at age 45, was working as a ferry captain for Circle Line-Statue of Liberty ferry cruises. He turned the tour boat into a rescue boat and helped evacuate hundreds of people from lower Manhattan to the other side of the Hudson River, CNN reports. He also helped rush rescue workers and supplies to the area. In May 2003, Phelan joined the New York City Fire Department. He served as a firefighter with Engine Co. 55 before he was promoted to marine pilot.
"In our city's darkest hour, @FDNY firefighter Thomas Phelan's heroism saved hundreds of lives," tweeted Mayor Bill de Blasio. "We will never forget his service and his sacrifice." Phelan died Friday of cancer that officials and friends say was related to his exposure to toxic fumes near Ground Zero, the New York Daily News reports. "Always a stand-up guy, always doing the right thing, and will be sorely missed," wrote a fellow firefighter on Facebook. "Rest easy brother." Thousands of people, including many first responders, have died of cancers believed to be linked to the 2001 attacks. (These father and son 9/11 first responders died of cancer within a year of each other.)