Retired New York firefighter recounts story of survival

Local survivors remember 9/11

September 11, 2001 is a day retired New York firefighter Lt. Joe Torrillo will never forget.

"I got there at 9 o'clock in the morning, 14 minutes after the first jet hit," Torrillo said.

Torrillo said he was in the area of the World Trade Center because he was on his way to a press conference about a first responder doll he had developed with a toy maker that was debuting that day. He had to make a decision, go to the press conference or help. It was an easy decision. He said he rushed to the fire station across the street from the World Trade Center. It was the same one where he began his career.

Torrillo, who has a background in engineering, said he knew the towers were going to collapse and that the ambulances set up in the lobbies of the buildings needed to get out.

"I'm (more) worried about the ambulance crews than anybody because they're the ones we're really going to need at the end of the day," he said.

He was adamant they move and they did. But then he found himself in a horrifying position.

"I'm kind of feeling helpless as people are starting to jump all around me. Then all of a sudden, I hear a boom and I look up, and here comes the building and I'm right outside in front of it. And all I keep saying is, 'You idiot, you're the one who knew this building was going to collapse (and) you put yourself right underneath it,' " Torrillo said.

He started running. "I said to myself, 'You got about 10 seconds left to live,' " Torrillo said.

He tried to get to safety under a footbridge but didn't make it.

"As I'm running, the building is coming down -- the pancake type of collapse, boom, boom, boom," Torrillo said.

The force of the collapse threw him off his feet.

"The south tower fell on the hotel, split the hotel in half and the hotel fell on top of me. A piece of steel had opened up the whole back of my head. Huge slabs of concrete were hitting my body and with every slab, all my bones were breaking. Half my shoulders torn, my neck and spine is crushed, I'm bleeding internally and I'm suffocating in this darkness and I'm buried. But we can't see each other," Torrillo said.

About 25 minutes later, Torrillo was found and he survived. But it was for nearly half an hour that he lay buried hearing the sounds of the people injured and dying around him.

"I hear them screaming in the darkness, 'Please help me, please help me.' After a while those screams turned into cries, cries into whimpers, whimpers into silence. One by one they had all died, and I was still alive," Torrillo said.

He said after he was found beneath the rubble the first time, he was transported to a boat. Then the north tower came down and he was buried a second time. Fortunately somebody found him again.
 
Torrillo said he wants to thank all the volunteers who came out to help.

Carolyn Williams volunteered with the Red Cross near ground zero. She said people were compelled to help.

"Oregon, per capita, sent more volunteers to 9/11 than any other state in the union," Williams said.

Both she and Torrillo stressed the importance that people never forget.

"People need to hear it from a survivor for someone to live through it," Torrillo said.

Torrillo now travels the country telling his story. On Saturday, he spoke to Portland-area firefighters. He plans to speak on Sunday at the celebration in Boring. 

KGW


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