Retired New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (above) shares his powerful story of being buried alive twice during the Sept. 11th, 2001, attacks, while speaking to a packed audience of DMACC students, faculty, staff and community members on Tues., Sept. 26th, at the College's Ankeny Campus. Torrillo was a guest speaker at DMACC campuses in Ankeny, Boone and Des Moines over the course of two days as part of the College's on-going War and the Human Experience Series. All series events are free and open to the public.
Retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (standing at front of room) tells audience members at DMACC about the beginning of his firefighting career, which included 15 years as a member of Engine Company #10 across the street from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. After suffering a major injury to his hand while battling an NYC apartment fire on New Year's Eve 1996, Torrillo was assigned to the FDNY Office of Fire Safety Education while he recovered. He was ultimately named the director of the program and would go on to help design a state-of-the-art Fire Safety Learning Center that opened in October 2000.
Joe Torrillo (above) holds a Fisher-Price "Billy Blazes" action figure on Tues, Sept. 26th, after giving a guest presentation at the DMACC Ankeny Campus as part of the College's War and the Human Experience Series. After taking notice of Torrillo's fire safety education work in New York City, Fisher-Price contacted Torrillo about working together to create the firefighter action figure as part of the toy company's "Rescue Heroes" series. And on the morning of the Sept. 11th, 2001, Torrillo was driving to a press conference in midtown Manhattan to officially announce the release of the new "Billy Blazes" toy when he heard about a plane crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He thought it was an accident at first, but soon realized it was an unprecedented attack.
"At that moment, I had to decide whether I should go introduce a new action figure or take action myself," Torrillo said.
"I decided to take action."
Retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (above) recounts learning about the Sept. 11th, 2001, attacks as he was headed to a FDNY press conference in Midtown Manhattan that very same morning. Instead, he quickly made the decision to go to the fire station where he had started his career: Engine Company #10 across from the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
As he jumped in to assist with the urgent response, a damaged hotel beside the towers began to collapse and Torrillo was trapped in the debris. He said he was convinced he was going to die. However, Torrillo and others were eventually rescued, but as the crews were trying to get the survivors out of the city, the North Tower fell, and he was buried a second time and declared missing for three days. He ultimately suffered a fractured skull, along with other serious injuries, and was eventually forced to take medical disability retirement from the FDNY. More than 340 firefighters died as a result of the Sept. 11th attacks.
Retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (seated at front) takes a group photo with students from the DMACC Fire Science and DMACC Paramedic programs on Tues., Sept. 26th, after speaking at the College's Ankeny Campus. Torrillo now travels the country to speak about his career path and what he's learned through experience, and to share motivation and inspiration, especially with young people.
Kyla Ousley-Lee (left), a DMACC Pre-Nursing student from Des Moines, poses for a photo with retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (right) on Tues., Sept. 26th, at the DMACC Ankeny Campus after he shared his presentation “Buried Alive Twice on 9/11" as part of DMACC's War and the Human Experience Series. Torrillo now travels the country to speak about his career path and what he's learned through experience, and to share motivation and inspiration — especially with young people, he said.
DMACC Criminal Justice student Matthew Breaux (right), a Louisiana native now living in Ankeny, talks with retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo (left) following Torrillo's presentation on Tues., Sept. 26th, at the DMACC Ankeny Campus. Torrillo survived the collapse of both World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11th, 2001, but was buried in the rubble and presumed dead for three days.
DMACC Urban Campus History Professor Dr. Matt Walsh (left to right), DMACC Ankeny Campus History Professor Joe Danielson, retired FDNY Lieutenant Joe Torrillo, and current DMACC and Drake University student Alexandria Colby of Des Moines take a photo together following Torrillo's presentation on Tues., Sept. 26th, at the DMACC Ankeny Campus as part of DMACC's War and the Human Experience Series. To learn more about the series, click here.