Former FDNY Lt. Martin Fullam, 56, of Annadale, a 9/11 first responder who later became ill and whose efforts helped make the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act a reality, died Monday at home.
Lt. Fullam was off on the morning of September 11, 2001, but as soon as he heard the news of the attack on the World Trade Center, he drove to his home base, Ladder Co. 87 in Annadale, packed 10 firefighters into his pickup truck and sped off to Rescue Co. 5 in Concord. He spent weeks sifting through the debris for survivors at Ground Zero.
Born in Manhattan, he was brought to New Dorp as a child and settled in Annadale in 1999. He was a graduate of New Dorp High School.
Mr. Fullam served for 24 years with New York City Fire Department, beginning his career at Engine Co. 14 in Manhattan. He worked for six years at Ladder 87 in Annadale, and then spent seven years at Ladder 111 in Brooklyn. Mr. Fullam returned to Ladder 87, spending three years there until his promotion to lieutenant in 2003. He was then assigned to the First Division in Lower Manhattan, spending five years there until he went out on disability.
Mr. Fullam was part of thousands of legal claims filed against New York City over the massive battle aimed at linking chronic illnesses of first responders to the rescue efforts at Ground Zero.
In addition, he also was part of the battle to reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which awarded $7 billion for injury and death claims related to September 11, before the fund was closed in 2003. At the time the fund was closed, Mr. Fullam had not been diagnosed with polymyositis, an autoimmune disease that has left him with a lung capacity hovering around 39 percent.
On July 27, 2010, President Barack Obama signed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which was designed to aid ailing World Trade Center responders exposed to toxins at Ground Zero by providing them with medical monitoring and treatment.
It also provided compensation for those who suffered economic loss by reopening the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.
In 2005, Mr. Fullam was diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s muscle tissues, and pulmonary fibrosis in his lungs. Over the course of several years, the disease weakened his muscles and ravaged his lungs to the point that he could barely perform ordinary tasks. He became tired when he walked upstairs or tried to tie his shoes. By 2006, Mr. Fullam was tethered to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day. In May 2007, with his lungs at 30 percent capacity, he was told by doctors he would soon be dead if he did not receive a new lung.
In 2009, Mr. Fullam got a second chance at life, receiving a donated lung he desperately needed to survive. The moment was marked by dozens of Mr. Fullam’s FDNY brethren celebrating at the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia Medical Center in Washington Heights, with bagpipers and well-wishers lining the sidewalks.
Mr. Fullam, who could barely brush his teeth or put on his clothes without losing his breath because of his illness, was just happy to be able to breathe on his own for the first time in 3 ½ years.
“I really feel like the luckiest man in the world. I know it stinks to get sick, but I am enjoying one of the best parts of my life,” he told the crowd of firefighters, medical staff and media inside the hospital, according to an April 30, 2009, Advance article.
In a Feb. 18, 2007, article in the Advance, Mr. Fullam said of his work at Ground Zero: “You were just always thinking you were going to find somebody alive, somebody that needs help. That’s what you thought about all day and all night. Not yourself. I thought I could take care of myself that day,” he said.
Since the terrorist attacks, the web of physical and financial troubles grew for Mr. Fullam, who estimated that in 2007, he owed well in excess of $50,000 in unpaid medical bills.
In a Jan. 24, 2007 edition of the Advance, Mr. Fullam attended the State of the Union address by President George Bush where supporters were on hand pressing for Bush to fund medical treatment to 9/11 heroes.
“We lost a lot of brothers that day, 343. Subsequent to that, more of us got sick, and I am one of them,” Mr. Fullam said during the event. “I’m not ready to give up.”
“He knew he was given a gift since 9/11 to watch his children grow,” said his brother, David. “He always remembered the guys and other people who went to work on 9/11 and never got that chance, so he appreciated every minute he was given.”
In a statement, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of Lt. Martin Fullam. It was an honor to stand side by side with our heroic first responders as they came to Washington time and again to fight for the health care and compensation they had earned and deserve. Lt. Fullam personified the tireless efforts our first responders who refused to take no for an answer from Congress. Words like brave and valiant, don’t even begin to tell his story, and those of too many other first responders who have lost their lives since 9/11 after breathing in toxic dust. My prayers are with Lt. Fullam’s family and loved ones.”
Mr. Fullam also worked as a self-employed contractor while also serving with the FDNY.
Along with his brother, David, also surviving are his wife of 23 years, the former Patricia Kelly; his mother, Helen Fullam; three daughters, Kelly, Caroline and Emma Fullam; another brother, Joseph Fullam, and two sisters, Deborah Turkovic and Carol Johnson.
The funeral will be Saturday from the John Vincent Scalia Home for Funerals, Eltingville, with a mass at 11:15 a.m. in Our Lady Star of the Sea R.C. Church, Huguenot. Burial will be in Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp.