MUST HEAR: 9/11 NYFD heroes share stories with Newell

Two of New York's bravest recount being buried alive in WTC rubble

Newell Normand
September 20, 2019 - 5:24 pm

The Fourth Annual New Orleans 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday, September 21st pays tribute to the 343 firefighters, 60 law enforcement officers, and 8 emergency medical technicians who made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives on September 11, 2001. Newell, who intentionally began his career in radio on September 11, 2017, was honored to have three very special guests in studio today to talk about the event, and share some personal stories about where their lives took them on that terrible day 18 years ago.

You've heard stories from heroes on "The Pile," but you may not have heard anything from heroes underneath it. New York firefighters Tim Duffy and Joe Torrillo were both buried alive that day as they ran into the fight to save civilian lives. 

Joe told the story of being caught underneath the South Tower when it came down.

"I started running but I didn't make it - a piece of steel hit me in the back of my head and split it wide open. Huge slabs of concrete hit my body, all my ribs were broken, my left arm was snapped in half, my neck and spine were crushed, I was bleeding internally and I was suffocating under tons of steel and concrete, buried with all these other people... they found me later that day and I woke up in an operating room in New Jersey, but I was wearing another firefighters' coat. We write our names on the inside, mine said Tommy McNamara. For three days they didn't know where I was."

Tim is the subject of one of the days' most iconic photos, driving his Harley through the rubble in full FDNY gear. He recounted the sensations he experienced of having to crawl through the rubble and dust.

"It felt like I was stuck inside a bag of cement... it was clumping up in my mouth and I was swallowing clumps but on the way down it was wicking the moisture out of my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears. I was starting to suffocate. I was lucky enough to get into the Brooks Brothers at Church and Liberty and did a preliminary search of the first floor, did a preliminary search of the second floor and came down and ran into Billy Quick, who passed away three or four years ago of cancer... I heard this sucking sound and knew somebody was in there with a mask. I ran over to him and took a couple of hits, took a couple of packs of handkerchiefs of the shelf at put one around my face. It helped a little bit but wasn't that great."

"We now know that so many of the brothers and sisters that were with you with that day are still losing their lives today," Newell said, referring to the suite of 9/11 related illnesses and cancers that many of the days' first responders have been afflicted with. "I've followed many of them over the years, and their struggles. I'm sure many of them are your friends. It kind of struck me that we had this conversation in Congress about the trials and tribulations folks and their families are going through today. Tell us a little bit about that struggle."

"Between police, fire, EMS, ironworkers, I think every day and a half we're losing somebody," Tim replied. "Just a couple of months ago we lost three guys on a Wednesday, three firemen. You do the best you can and hope your clock gets dragged out. Because it's coming. It's only a matter of time."

"Joe, from the day of to the years after, when you look back - what are the changes that really strike you the most?" Newell asked.

"With all the injuries I had, especially the brain injury... during my recuperation, all I wanted to do was get back to the firehouse, but in 2004 the Fire Department made a decision and forced me into a retirement and I didn't know where I was going to go from that point. I decided I would set out on a mission to make this country the United States of America, resurrect patriotism, and go around this country trying to bring people together. So we took this big American flag around the country, it was very important for my to travel and speak and lend support to the members of our fire departments and first responders, but also to make sure that everybody honors every man and woman who ever served our nation and support them in every way."

Neil Navarro is the Event Director for the Stair Climb here in New Orleans, which so happens to take place in the same building that houses WWL Radio and our sister stations at 400 Poydras St.

"I'm humbled, to say the least, that these two legends wanted to come down and be a part of our event. It means the world. Being a firefighter, I'd have been in the same position, ran into those buildings just as fast... so this is our way of remembering 9/11 and the 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 EMS... this year we sold out in three and a half hours, all 411 spots. I'm humbled and honored to be a part of this, it's a great event where we honor our local fallen as well. You have to see it in person. Pictures don't do it justice." 

"This changed this country so many different ways," Newell said. "The creation of the Dept of Homeland Security, the way we collect intelligence, the role of firefighters in collecting intelligence and the way that we train now... some of these young men and women coming on the force today that weren't even alive then, so it really is important to remember, define it and memorialize it for the purposes of knowing why things are the way they are today."

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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