December 9, 2002 --

Some families of missing 9/11 firefighters could move closer to closure because tiny vials of blood - drawn while their loved ones were alive - sit frozen in one of two medical storage facilities, The Post has learned.

The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) is storing traces of possibly dozens of the city's Bravest, whose remains have yet to be found, and will hand them back to families if contacted.

"It's a chance to give something back to a group that has done so much for or patients," said Dr. Jeffrey Chell, CEO of the NMDP, the organization that assists patients in finding bone-marrow transplant matches to combat 70 diseases, including leukemia.

"We would be happy to help any family retrieve a small blood sample in order to help them get some closure."

Over the years, approximately 8,500 New York City firefighters have donated their blood. And now what was once a chance to offer life may help families deal with death.

"I can't tell you the feeling that there's something still on this earth," said Dee Ragusa, mother of firefighter Michael Ragusa, whose remains have never been found.

Stored in repositories in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the clear, plastic vials contain two teaspoons or less of blood, said Dr. Alan Howard, an NMDP scientist. Now these vials could come back to New York for burial.

For some 9/11 families, burying blood "might give some relief," said Dr. Pauline Boss, author of "Ambiguous Loss," a book about dealing with the loss of a missing love one.

"It gives [families] something tangible to say goodbye to," she said.

The sample could become the family's property in as little as two days, if a request is put in writing and is accompanied by a legal document noting next-of-kin status.

Families can call (800) MARROW2 to see if a vial of blood exists.

Vials for 113 firefighters who died on 9/11 are left behind. The group could possess as many as 48 vials belonging to firefighters whose remains haven't been identified.

Of the 343 firefighters killed at the World Trade Center, 136 remain unaccounted for.