A father and son who were first responders at Ground Zero during the events of 9/11 have died of cancer just months apart.
Robert Alexander, a 43-year-old New York fireman, died on Aug. 14 from a brain tumor that was linked to the time he spent at Ground Zero, New York Daily News reports. In late 2016, Robert's father Raymond Alexander also died from cancer stemming from his time as a first responder during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Robert is a third-generation fireman," said Robert's mother and Raymond's wife, Ginger Alexander, according to CNN. "His grandfather, his father, and him -- 80 years of service all together."
Robert and Raymond are the first known father and son to die from illnesses stemming from 9/11.
"World Trade Center illnesses continue to take the lives of far too many FDNY members, now including two generations of the Alexander family -- a father and son who served so bravely, for so long," said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
Robert was working as a police officer when the attacks occurred.
Ginger recalled that she didn't believe the news about the towers falling was real. She remembered being at a local coffee shop when she first heard about the attacks.
"The fellow that owned the shop, I knew him, and he said: 'Ginger, Ginger, get over here! Look at this!'" Ginger recalled. "And I said, 'Oh, that's just a 'War of the Worlds' like that guy back in the '30s,'" she said, referencing the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast that accidentally caused people to believe aliens had invaded Earth.
Once she saw footage of the first tower collapsing, she realized the attacks were real. Ginger rushed to call her husband and son.
"Around 3 o'clock, Ray called and said he and Robert had touched bases," said Ginger. She spent the rest of that afternoon answering calls from family, telling them that her husband and son were safe.
After Raymond and Robert left Ground Zero, the Alexander family thought that the tragedy was over, but the aftermath of 9/11 continued to haunt them. Raymond became ill in 2003; from then until 2016, he was diagnosed with seven different types of cancer.
In 2015, Robert was also diagnosed with cancer in the form of an inoperable tumor in his brain.
"We were totally devastated, my husband and I," said Ginger. "He and Robert were particularly close, because they had so much in common."
Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald said that first responders are still dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.
"We had firefighters show symptoms very early after 9/11 in age groups that they shouldn't have been showing symptoms for different diseases, specifically cancer," said Fitzgerald.
"The impact of 9/11 is not over, and it doesn't seem like it's going to be over for a long, long time," he added.
"I can't imagine how the Alexander family feels, but I would hope that the entire country will keep them in their prayers and remember what happened on that terrible day and what continues to go on here in New York."