Editorial: Officer’s death exemplifies ‘last full measure of devotion’

Last Friday morning, at Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Mattituck, the recent history of our country and our state were on full display when hundreds of mourners gathered to honor the life of Sgt. Dennis Reichardt, a retired Suffolk County police officer.

Sgt. Reichardt was the sort of man who was devoted to his job and to public service. He believed in his work. He believed in duty. He believed in things far bigger than himself. 

Like thousands of others, he had rushed to the scene of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in lower Manhattan to help in any way he could. The collapse of the Twin Towers had sent tons of toxic pollutants into the air. Sgt. Reichardt and others who responded to this epic American tragedy spent days and weeks looking — first for any possible survivors in the rubble, and then for remains so that families could bury their loved ones.

Sgt. Reichardt’s death from pancreatic cancer on Oct. 4, and the scores of police officers and others who came to his funeral, are reminders that even 17 years later, we are not over 9/11. It has not receded into history. And it should never recede into history. It continues to claim lives from cancers related to the air quality that resulted at ground zero.

Sgt. Reichardt was just 64. At his funeral, he was described as a “cop’s cop,” a believer in his role as a public servant and, throughout his career, as a man who put his family ahead of himself.

He joined the police department in 1982, was elevated to sergeant in 1993 and spent a good part of his career in the Emergency Services Unit. There, he learned the really hard stuff: heavy rescue, extrications, the handling of explosives and the danger that high-risk search warrants pose for officers carrying them out.

Because of his training, he was a natural fit to work at ground zero as a bomb technician. He spent days at the site, and weeks at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, where debris and rubble were taken.

He retired from the department in 2011 and, in April 2017, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. All the research done since 9/11 shows that this type of cancer, as well as many others, can be directly attributed to the terror attacks. These deaths, and the scores of first responders who have been diagnosed with other 9/11-related diseases, represent a second wave of tragedy connected directly to the attacks.

In a statement after Sgt. Reichardt’s death, Suffolk County Police Chief Stuart Cameron said: “In his passing we are unfortunately reminded of the dangers that still surround 9/11 for first responders. I have no doubt, even if Reichardt knew of the risks involved, he would still have responded to serve his country.”

Two years ago, we profiled retired FDNY firefighter Steve Brickman of Jamesport, who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 head and neck cancer and Stage 4 lung cancer. Doctors attributed these cancers to toxins he’d inhaled at ground zero, where he spent nearly two weeks, often with little sleep, assisting in bucket brigades. His treatments began more than five years ago and, thankfully, he’s still with us today. 

The death in 2006 of New York City police detective James Zadroga, age 34, started the process of examining the impact of air quality on the responders. An autopsy revealed that Det. Zadroga’s lungs were full of ground glass, among other things.

Several studies undertaken since 9/11, including the federal World Trade Center Health Program, show that an estimated 9,795 people have been diagnosed with cancers related to the attack and more than 400 have died. 

Sgt. Reichardt’s wife, Jean, said her husband “loved being a police officer.” The large crowd that came to Mattituck for his funeral — officers in formation, bagpipers, K-9 units and a police helicopter flyover — are a testament to that, and to what President Lincoln, after the battle at Gettysburg, called “the last full measure of devotion.”

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