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9/11 Responder Shared Tale in Documentary Just Before His Death

By Julie Shapiro | June 27, 2011 1:37pm | Updated on June 27, 2011 1:19pm

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

LOWER MANHATTAN — A retired NYPD captain who responded to Ground Zero on 9/11 died of cancer on Sunday, shortly after sharing his story in an emotional online video.

Barry Galfano, 57, a Long Island resident, worked long shifts amid the burning rubble of the World Trade Center for months following 9/11, with the NYPD Emergency Service Unit.

He told his story in an eight-minute documentary video that the NYPD Captains Endowment Association filmed in March and released last week.

"I knew at the time, I'm breathing in smoke, I'm breathing in … poisonous chemicals," Galfano recalled in the video. "I'm saying to myself, in 20 years I'm going to wind up with lung cancer or something … I never expected eight years later to find out: It's not 20 years. It's now."

Galfano said even though he knew the risk he was taking, he didn't think twice about it as he dug through the debris to recover bodies.

"I looked at it: We're at war," Galfano said in the video, which was first reported by the Daily News. "And if I was at war, I'm not going to sit here and worry about getting hit with chemicals. It was part of the battle."

Galfano retired from the NYPD in 2006 and was diagnosed with intestinal cancer in 2008. The disease spread to his back, his lungs and his brain, and though he recently appeared to be doing better, he declined rapidly over the weekend, said Roy Richter, president of the NYPD Captains Endowment Association.

"He was a fighter," Richter told DNAinfo Monday morning. "He had tremendous drive and determination."

Galfano choked up several times in the video, especially when talking about the toll his illness had taken on his four children, his parents and his girlfriend.

Still, he said that the cancer had been a blessing in some ways, because it brought his family closer together.

"I always take a positive out of any negative," Galfano said. "I'm going to leave knowing my family better than I would have had I lived 90 years."