Knoxville — I had the privilege last Friday of listening to Lt. Joe Torillo of the New York Fire Department describe what the events of Sept. 11, 2001, were like for him. I'll attempt to retell his story, but if you can find him providing a similar lecture online somewhere, take time to watch and listen.
Torillo was injured years before 9/11. While he healed, he took a job as a fire educator for the department. When he recovered, he had become so involved and made such a difference in the reduction of deaths, due to fires, in New York City, that he stuck with it.
Over the years, he had grown his program, which reached out strongly to schoolchildren, and it included a $3 million facility dedicated to fire safety education.
Fisher Price toys had called him to help them design a firefighter character for its Rescue Heroes line of toys. The company wanted the character to represent a member of the NYFD.
The character and the toy, known as Billy Blazes, had been finalized after a lengthy design process. Torillo and a few interns were on their way to a press conference to unveil the new character the morning of Sept. 11. On his way to the conference, he saw the smoke coming out of the north tower of the World Trade Center.
He was still familiar with the area. The firehouse he served with was near the center, so he rushed there, grabbed some gear, and headed for the tower. On his way, the south tower was hit.
Torillo, who has a background in structural engineering, knew the towers were going to fall because of the attack. He was inside one of the towers, trying to help people get out, when it collapsed. He was buried in the rubble, along with several others.