Retired FDNY firefighter with ALS fights for 9/11 pension; gets help from fallen NYPD cop’s suit

Robert Olsen claims he suffered asthma resulting from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as a result of breathing in toxic air during World Trade Center recovery efforts


By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A retired FDNY firefighter’s fight for a 9/11 pension is getting a little help from an NYPD detective whose death from Lou Gehrig’s Disease was linked to the months he spent at Ground Zero.

Firefighter Robert Olsen claims he suffered asthma resulting from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as a result of 30 days he breathed in the toxic air while aiding rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site in 2001.

Firefighters remove a basket with victims' remains after it was pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York on Oct. 2, 2001. Firefighter Robert Olsen claims he suffered asthma resulting from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as a result of 30 days he breathed in the toxic air while aiding rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site in 2001.
Firefighters remove a basket with victims' remains after it was pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York on Oct. 2, 2001. Firefighter Robert Olsen claims he suffered asthma resulting from Lou Gehrig’s Disease as a result of 30 days he breathed in the toxic air while aiding rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site in 2001. (File photo/LM Otero/Associated Press)

But the FDNY’s Board of Trustees denied his request for a 9/11 tax-free pension claiming that there was “no evidence” he contracted these health issues while working on the pile.

In a lawsuit filed Oct. 31, Olsen’s attorney cites a court decision that linked NYPD Emergency Services Unit Detective Michael Hanson’s Lou Gehrig’s Disease — formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS — to the eight months he spent amid the World Trade Center rubble.

On Jan. 24, Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kotler determined Detective Hanson’s death in 2018 was linked to his time at Ground Zero, allowing his wife Cathy to collect a 9/11 disability pension, which would amount to three-quarters of his last year’s salary.

The city immediately vowed to appeal Judge Kotler’s decision but has not yet filed any paperwork. After being granted two extensions, the city has until Nov. 21 to file its appeal, a source with knowledge of the case said.

Autopsy results showed that massive traces of antimony, a heavy metal that was discovered at the World Trade Center site, was in Hanson’s brain tissue and spinal fluid, creating a link between his ALS and his time at the attack scene.

“It has always been my opinion that (Detective Hanson’s) deterioration and eventual death had some causality with his exposures on the 9/11 grounds,” said a letter by Dr. Andrew Hirsh cited in Cathy Hanson’s lawsuit.

“I feel that his toxic exposures played a real impact on his global health deterioration and trigger of neurologic decline,” Hirsh’s letter said. “I feel that future studies and monitoring will confirm this relationship in others that have had similar exposure.”

In his lawsuit, Olsen says his blood was also tested for heavy metals.

“The results showed an increase in antimony levels in his blood,” the lawsuit states. “Firefighter Olsen’s Ground Zero exposure was also presumed to have caused the increase in antimony levels.”

“Given the identical facts presented in [the] Hanson [case], the Medical Board’s bare conclusory statement denying the presumption for Firefighter Olsen’s ALS is arbitrary and capricious on its face,” the lawsuit states in asking the FDNY Medical Board to reconsider its decision.

The FDNY Medical Board determined that Olsen’s asthma was linked to his ALS. If that was true, than, under the Hanson decision, the firefighter’s asthma would also be considered a 9/11 illness, the lawsuit argues.


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Cathy Hanson was happy to learn others fighting for their rightful 9/11 pensions were turning to her husband’s case for help.

“Mike would be so humbled and thrilled that his name is still being used to help people, because that’s what he did the whole life,” Hanson said. “He would also be joking about how his name is now in the lawbooks.”

The city is reviewing Olsen’s case.

“We are carefully reviewing both of these tragic cases, which is the normal course for ongoing and new matters,” city law department spokesman Nick Paolucci said. “We will respond to the court accordingly.”

A call to Olsen’s attorney was not immediately returned.


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