“Dr. Hirsch was a visionary leader whose work earned him world-renown and helped make New York City a global leader in the field,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.
Often called ‘the father of modern forensic pathology’, the 75 year old doctor was appointed in 1989 by the late Mayor Ed Koch, and has since then investigated thousands of deaths— from the 1990 flash fire at the Happy Land Social Club in the Bronx that killed 87 people, to the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
Hirsch served as head of the New York City Medical Examiners Office during the latter, at which time he and six aides established a temporary morgue for the victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks at the World Trade Center.
As the story goes, when the first tower collapsed, he fell to the ground and required medical attention for severe cuts and bruises. Years later, he discovered the he had broken every single rib. But that didn’t stop the forensic scientist from returning to work the same day, to his office on Manhattan’s East Side, where he would begin a process that continues to this very day: identifying nearly 20,000 body parts collected in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Dr. Hirsch pledged that ‘We will do whatever it takes, for as long as it takes, to identify every victim of this tragedy,’ and we worked tirelessly to bring some comfort the families of those lost,” Bloomberg said. “We are deeply greatful for his many years of outstanding service and he leaves a legacy that will serve our city well for many years to come.”
Throughout his long spanning career, the doctor is known for going out of his way to work with families of different faiths in accommodating their beliefs, as well as educating other medical examiners to act likewise. Several weeks ago, he invited representatives of Chesed Shel Emes to give a lecture to all Medical Examiners of New York City on death in the Jewish Culture.
“Dr. Hirsch was always there for the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Mayer Berger, Director of Operations of Chesed Shel Emes a Jewish organization helping people cope with the death of a loved one.
Succeeding Dr. Hirsch will be his longtime deputy, Dr. Barbara Sampson, who recently spoke highly of her mentor’s guiding philosophy: “That the nobility of the chief medical examiner comes from service to the anonymous citizens of New York City at the worst times of their lives. It’s not about the chief medical examiner.”