N.Y. firefighter with ALS to receive mortgage-free home from Tunnel to Towers Foundation
Greg "Mickey" Hansen joined FDNY a few months after 9/11, having searched for his sister and assisted others after the planes struck the Twin Towers
By Ann Marie Barron
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Greg "Mickey" Hansen wasn't even a firefighter when he ran up lower Manhattan's West Side on Sept. 11, 2001, just after the planes hit the World Trade Center, searching for his sister, assisting others and witnessing the horrors that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people — including 343 FDNY members.
His sister survived. And, a few months later, despite what he'd witnessed, Hansen didn't hesitate to join the FDNY ranks.
On Thursday, Dec. 15, Hansen will receive a mortgage-free home from the Staten Island-based not-for-profit Tunnel to Towers Foundation (T2T), a home that recently underwent extensive renovations to accommodate the wheelchair and walker he now uses as he battles job-related ALS.
For years, Hansen, who would rise to the rank of lieutenant, proudly dressed in his full FDNY uniform and carried the American flag in the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run. Recently retired due to his condition, he now finds himself on the receiving end of the charity he's long supported and respected.
It's an unfamiliar position for Hansen, a former outdoorsman, athlete and decorated firefighter, who for many months has been battling the ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a progressive, debilitating disease that is currently not known to have a cure.
"I was always a very DIY guy," said Hansen, 42. "I liked to do everything myself. And now I have to accept the help that's been given. It's hard, but I'm super grateful for it. I feel a lot of pressure has been taken off me and my family."
Hansen and his wife, America, are the parents of two young children, Amaru, 11, and Clara, 9. They'll move out of their Concord home and into the new residence soon after the Dec. 15 ceremony. The children have many friends in the new neighborhood, Hansen said, and they're looking forward to the move.
T2T has removed walls and carpet throughout the New Brighton home to make it easier for Hansen to get around in either a wheelchair or walker. The bathroom has also been enlarged and equipment has been installed to make it easier for him to use.
The foundation also renovated the kitchen with new lighting, cabinets, flooring, countertops and appliances — including a motorized table that raises and lowers to wheelchair height.
"I've always had a lot of respect for them," Hansen said of the T2T Foundation. "They don't hesitate. If somebody needs something, they just do it. And they go big."
The foundation, founded by Frank Siller of Westerleigh and his family, is dedicated to honoring the sacrifice of his brother, Staten Island firefighter Stephen Siller, who lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001, after running through the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel (then known as the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel) to respond to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
The foundation's Season of Hope celebrates the holiday season by lifting the financial burden of a mortgage from the families of fallen first responders, Gold Star families, and catastrophically injured veterans around the country. This year, more than 200 mortgage-free homes will be delivered across the nation by the foundation.
Hansen spent nearly 21 years in service to residents of New York City in a job he said he loved.
Along the way, he was cited multiple times for extraordinary bravery.
He has also volunteered for Special Rescue Operations in New Orleans during the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has donated bone marrow to help a desperately ill woman battling leukemia.
"I've had a lot of strange luck in my life," said Hansen, who noted the extensive support he's received from his brother firefighters at Ladder Company 153 in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, who created a not-for-profit organization and raised funds to help pay his medical costs. "Yeah, I'm pretty unlucky with the disease, but I'm so lucky with the support that I have."
Hansen, a native Staten Islander, started his FDNY career at a young age, and "was basically raised by the firehouse," he said. "I went in there a young man and came of age in there."
He said he loved "the camaraderie, the excitement" he found in his shortened career. Hansen recently retired due to the ALS he battles. What started as a twitching feeling in his calves quickly progressed to weakness in his legs and an inability to lift the heavy equipment required on the job, he recalled.
Though Hansen was forced to retire due to his condition, he did not receive a disability pension, he said, noting that the FDNY doesn't recognize ALS as a line-of-duty injury, though the U.S. military does.
That added financial worries to the physical struggle, something the mortgage-free home will now help alleviate, he said.
Leaving the job he loved, not being active with his children and trying to remain positive have been a challenge, Hansen said.
"Every day is a mental battle just try to stay positive, to try not to lose hope," he said. "Every day, I'm preparing for not being able to do stuff, but still trying to maintain hope that that's not going to happen."
The 1:30 p.m. ceremony on Thursday will take place at the home, located at 415 Prospect Ave., in New Brighton. It will be hosted by Mary Siller-Scullin, the foundation's chief administrative officer. Also in attendance will be Jack Oehm, a foundation board member and a retired FDNY battalion commander.
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