Harry F. Graves Jr., a Ridgefield Park firefighter who volunteered at Ground Zero after 9/11, died Monday. The lifelong village resident was 59.
His family believes his cancer was related to his work amid |the ruins of the World Trade Center.
"I believe strongly [it was related], but only God knows," said Mr. Graves' wife, Elizabeth. "Even the doctors don't know."
Volunteer firefighting is a Graves family tradition. Mr. Graves' father and uncle were village fire chiefs and Mr. Graves was a 38-year member of Hose Company No. 1. Mr. Graves also earned his living in the firefighting realm: He owned Spumifer American Co., which manufactures and supplies hose washers, nozzles, foam concentrates and other equipment used by fire departments.
Mayor George Fosdick, a 46-year volunteer fighter, said Mr. Graves was an outgoing and active community servant. Fosdick was Mr. Graves' history teacher at Ridgefield Park High School more than 40 years ago. Because Fosdick and Mr. Graves' relatives served together in the Fire Department, young Harry "knew he had to behave in my class," the mayor said.
Mr. Graves also was involved in local Scouting, which he enjoyed with his son Matthew, an Eagle Scout.
Elizabeth Graves said her husband dug through rubble, put out hot spots and fixed equipment during several months as a Ground Zero volunteer. Fosdick said Mr. Graves told of finding body parts in the rubble.
"It was very wearying for him," the mayor said. "It took an emotional toll."
After experiencing coughing and other health problems, Mr. Graves enrolled in the World Trade Center Medical Monitoring and Treatment Program, which gives exams for Ground Zero workers and volunteers from New Jersey at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway. He developed hip pain in January and a cancerous tumor was found in May. Major surgery followed.
Mr. Graves is survived by his wife of 35 years; his children, Sara Mielnicki of Saddle Brook, Alyssa Cantatore of Carlstadt and Matthew Graves of Ridgefield Park; his parents, Helen and Harry Graves Sr. of Ridgefield Park; two brothers, Bill Graves of Ridgefield Park and John Graves of Spokane, Wash.; a sister, Barbara De Luca of Ridgefield Park, and two grandchildren.
Visiting is today from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at Vorhees-Ingwersen Funeral Home, Ridgefield Park. The funeral Mass will be Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Francis R.C. Church, Ridgefield Park. Interment will be in Madonna Cemetery, Fort Lee.
Published in The Record from Dec. 1 to Dec. 3, 2010