9/11 first responders from LI honored in Albany ceremony

Dr. Michael Guttenberg and William Ryan passed away from 9/11-related illnesses


Ellen Yan
Newsday

A doctor and a medical supplies salesman, both Long Islanders, were honored posthumously for their 9/11 service during an Albany ceremony that unveiled their names Tuesday on the Tree of Life EMS Memorial.

Dr. Michael Guttenberg, of Jericho, was an FDNY emergency medical service fellow when the Twin Towers fell around him. He and his crew ran to safety, but he returned to look for victims at the scene for the next month. William Ryan, of Manhasset, treated and transported victims in days of countless round trips to Ground Zero as an EMT with the Bay Community Volunteer Ambulance Corps. in Bayside, Queens. 

(Photo/City of New York)
(Photo/City of New York)

The men, both 50 and lifelong first responder volunteers, died of 9/11-related illnesses, state officials said. Guttenberg died in October 2017 of pancreatic cancer and Ryan of lung cancer in August.

"We stand together to honor these selfless emergency service providers who ultimately gave their lives by running towards danger on September 11, 2001," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news release.

The deaths of the Long Islanders, along with those of five FDNY emergency medical service responders, were considered "line of duty," Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said during the ceremony at the Empire State Plaza. They join 75 other EMS professionals on the memorial, in which the "Star of Life," the six-pointed symbol of the emergency medical services, serves as leaves on the tree. Each of the symbols bears a name.

Nearby was the ambulance used by Ryan at Ground Zero, now the "spare" vehicle at Bay Community Volunteer Ambulance but driven up for the ceremony — a physical link to one of the nation's deepest wounds.

A native Long Islander, Ryan had the gift of gab and loved being in the community, eager to work first aid and blood pressure clinics in the community, said Chief Michael Lyons of the ambulance corps, who attended the ceremony and was also the chief when he and Ryan worked at Ground Zero.

"Bill was always looking to help and had tons of energy," said Lyons. "He was not one to sit idle."

Ryan had been with the volunteer agency for about five years when the call to the Twin Towers came. Like most first responders there, Ryan stayed for days, in shifts that lasted than half the day, taking breaks here and there.

"He transported injured civilians and firefighters … to local hospitals," Lyons said, "and he'd be just turned around and sent back to the Ground Zero site and pick up the next round of patients." 

Like Ryan, Guttenberg breathed in the airborne toxins among the debris of Ground Zero. He saw plane parts, shoes and other debris, and felt the eerie silence after the second plane struck, followed by the fall of the first tower, then the second one. 

He forged that experience into a lifelong advocacy for medical personnel dispatched to the front lines of emergencies, said his longtime friend, Dr. William Lowe, medical director of employee health services at Northwell Health, where Guttenberg was then medical director of the Emergency Medical Services. 

"What Mike recognized really early on was that EMTs and paramedics have to be better trained, equipped and protected to go into those sort of environments, where there are things like toxic dust," Lowe said. "He was a strong advocate through all of the New York City EMS system for making sure that paramedics and EMTS are trained and equipped with the respiratory protection that they deserve to be doing this type of job."

In his medical career, he championed putting better diagnostic equipment and other tools into the hands of the front line medical personnel so they could better treat their patients in the field, the doctor said. Guttenberg was a primary player in setting up systems to send EKG and other medical information to the hospitals so that emergency room doctors would have as much knowledge as possible before the patient arrived, Lowe said.

"Emergency medicine was in Mike's blood," Guttenberg's friend said. "He was really an advocate of paramedics and EMTs, really advancing and practicing to the maximum of their licenses."

By Ellen Yan ellen.yan@newsday.com

@NewsdayAtNite

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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