NEW YORK - A funeral was held on Long Island Friday for retired FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died Sunday at age 59 after an eight-year battle with 9/11-related cancer.
Jon Stewart joined family, friends and fellow firefighters at the service in Hicksville and spoke of the man he befriended while lobbying for health benefits for September 11 first responders.
Stewart fought back tears while speaking, but he also joked about the retired firefighter's tenacity and grace. He said Pfeifer carried prayer cards of many of the 343 firefighters who died on September 11th and that Pfeifer used them as inspiration. Then Stewart pulled Pfeifer's prayer card from his pocket and emotionally thanked his friend.
Thousands turned out at the East Meadow Fire Department headquarters to pay their final respects at a wake Thursday.
"He touched so many lives and felt like the luckiest guy to be able to work among the best," sister Maryellen Pfeifer McKee said.
Pfeifer spent months digging through debris after the September 11th terror attacks, then became a key voice in fighting for health care for first responders.
"You meet very few great men in your life, he was one of them," Senator Charles Schumer said. "He had a mission, which was to pass the Zagroga. Even though it might have been to late for him, he never stopped."
He and others, including comedian Jon Stewart, went to Congress to challenge lawmakers to extend health monitoring and treatment for first responders in 2015.
"It was a rag tag group of 9/11 responders," said John Feal, who traveled to DC with the group. "We walked the halls as strangers, but when we left, it was because of Ray that we left as family."
Congress ultimately did reauthorize the program.
"I was just a poster boy," Pfeifer said when he was honored at New York City Hall in January 2016. "We got something done...It was hard-fought. We dealt with people that didn't really get it."
Stewart, meanwhile, said he had merely been Pfeifer's wingman on their trips to Washington.
"His overwhelming desire to help everyone in need, that's the kind of guy he was," son Terence Pfeifer said. "We'll always remember him for that."
Pfeifer served more than 27 years in the FDNY before retiring in 2014. He also volunteered at the East Meadow Fire Department, like his father before him.
"It was exciting from day one up to the last day I worked, every single minute," he told the New York Daily News. "I was proud every day to put that uniform on...It was a great way of living."
Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said Sunday that Pfeifer was "a true fighter," from battling blazes to pressing for help for sickened 9/11 first responders.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)