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NYC Chief Medical Examiner and WTC Responder Dies at 79

 Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, left, in 1989, the year he became New York City’s chief medical examiner. A taciturn Chicagoan, Dr. Hirsch said his autopsies constituted a “dialogue with the dead.” Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, left, in 1989, the year he became New York City’s chief medical examiner. A taciturn Chicagoan, Dr. Hirsch said his autopsies constituted a “dialogue with the dead.”
Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

The New York Times recently reported that Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, New York City’s chief medical examiner from 1989 to 2013 and himself a victim of the 9/11 attacks, has died at the age of 79. The Chicago native, a forensic pathologist by training, was the selection committee’s unanimous choice to take over an office that had lost the public trust. But in meticulous service under four mayors, the fiercely independent professional brought respect back to the office. Dr. Hirsch seemed almost immune to public pressure even in the most high-profile cases, which included Bernard Goetz, the so-called Subway Vigilante; the mysterious suicide of Clinton aide Vincent Foster; and the death of Anthony Baez while in NYPD custody.

However, the most consuming work of Dr. Hirsch’s career was the identification of remains following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. That morning, Dr. Hirsch and six of his aides had hurried from their headquarters at First Avenue and 30th Street down to the site, where they would attempt to set up a temporary morgue. The collapse of the North Tower severely injured two of his aides, and Dr. Hirsch had all of his ribs broken.

Despite the carnage, Dr. Hirsch pledged to do everything in his power to identify every victim. That process was extremely difficult because of the crushing force with which the buildings collapsed as well as the extreme heat that instantly cremated many of the remains. Yet, by the time Dr. Hirsch retired in 2013, his office had identified 1,634 of the 2,753 people killed or missing, approximately 59 percent.

As attorneys representing NYPD detective James Zadroga, who died of 9/11-related respiratory disease in 2006, we had an adversarial relationship with Dr. Hirsch, who attributed our client’s death to causes other than the 450-plus hours Detective Zadroga spent combing the rubble of Ground Zero. Although we believe Dr. Hirsch was mistaken, we have nothing but respect for his dedication to his office. Ultimately, we were able to overcome the doctor’s testimony to successfully advocate for the federal Zadroga Act, which provides benefits and compensation for victims and survivors of the WTC attacks.

Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson represents 9/11 survivors suffering from WTC-related illnesses. If you have questions about your rights under the Zadroga Act, call us at 888.351.9421 or contact our office online.

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