Retired FDNY fire marshal who ID'd 9/11 victims grateful for every day

NEW YORK (WABC) -- There is no shortage of 9/11 survivor stories, but retired FDNY Fire Marshal Conrad Tinney's might be in a league of its own.

"It's a litany of many emotions," he said. "I lost a hell of a lot of friends."

On September 11, 2001, and throughout the days and weeks that followed, Tinney spent endless hours at the city morgue and at ground zero identifying many of New York's Bravest.

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On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we hear from the Eyewitness News journalists who were there, in the streets, in the air, and in the newsroom, reporting on the events as the tragedy unfolded, capturing the unforgettable video of that day, and risking their lives to tell the world what was happening.

His unyielding dedication prompted a threat from the chief medical examiner to, "Go home or I'll have you physically removed."

"My job was to alleviate the pain and suffering from the families," Tinney said. "We identified them based on the records we had and photographs."

Tinney spent all that time shuttling back and forth between the morgue and the mountain of debris. He never wore a mask or respirator, saying he was told the air was fine.

As we all know by now, it wasn't.

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Eyewitness News reporter N.J. Burkett and photographer Marty Glembotzky rushed down to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. While shooting a standup right below the burning towers, the first tower began to collapse.

In 2007, a routine doctor's visit and a scan administered by the World Trade Center health program revealed a small nodule in his left lung.

That led to a lengthy list of 9/11 health-related problems that persist to this day.

"Lung cancer, constant lung infections, then lymphoma, bronchitis, pneumonia," he said. "It went septic, and then the heart."

What followed was eight rounds of chemotherapy, three dozen rounds of radiation, weight and hair loss, constant fatigue, and cardio rehabilitation.

After losing so many friends to the same health problems he suffered, Tinney finds it hard to believe he has lungs largely free of cancer, but a heart full of gratitude.

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WABC-TV engineer Don DiFranco was working at the Channel 7 transmitter site on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center North Tower when terrorists flew a hijacked American Airlines jet into the building on September 11, 2001.

"I have made it a point," he said. "Every morning, when my feet hit the floor, the first thing I do is cross myself and say, 'Thank you.'"

To his FDNY brethren, the 74-year-old now lives by the motto that grew out of that fateful day 20 years ago -- Always remember, never forget.

CLICK HERE for more Eyewitness News reflections, photos and stories marking the anniversary of 9/11

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