Lieutenant Joe Torrillo had been with the New York Fire Department for 25 years before the terror attack on 9-11 took almost 3000 American lives, and saw the Twin Towers reduced to rubble.
Torrillo had been seriously injured in 1996 while saving a woman from a burning building, and was assigned to the office of fire safety education as he recovered. Torrillo became director of the program 8 months later. According to his site, Torrillo co-designed a “children’s state-of-the-art fire safety learning center, which opened in October, 2000.”
In 2001, Torrillo helped design a firefighter action figure for Fisher-Price Toys that was designed to teach kids about fire safety.
Torrillo was on his way to unveil the educational toy when American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower on that fateful September day.
Joe had spent 15 years with Engine Company 10 which was located across the street from the towers.
Concerned with the safety of those with Company 10, he made his way to the station. Once there, the now retired Lieutenant tore off his dress uniform, and donned an off-duty firefighter’s gear.
As Torrillo neared the North Tower, he heard the high-pitched whine of United Airlines Flight 175 screaming towards the 110-story South Tower. He watched helplessly as the plane slammed into the building. He was now directly beneath the two burning skyscrapers.
Torrillo raced into action, joining his fellow firefighters in an attempt to save those in the crippled buildings. Then it happened;
The South Tower began collapsing.
According to Jacksonville News, Torrillo ran towards a footbridge between the two towers in an effort to escape the falling debris.
Torrillo recounted the horrifying moments as he was overtaken,
“A piece of steel hit me in the back of my head and split my head open,” he said. “All my ribs were broken, this arm was snapped, my shoulder was torn out of the socket, my spine and my neck were crushed and I was suffocating in this huge dust cloud.”
“I was buried with a lot of other people.”
The veteran firefighter heard the screams of those who were buried around him. Slowly, the screams turned to cries, then whimpers, then silence. Everyone around him died, one by one.
Torrillo was found by his colleagues about an hour later. His fellow firefighters put him on a stretcher and ran him across the street to the Hudson River where boats were evacuating the wounded. That’s when the North Tower fell.
Debris from the North Tower landed on the boat that Torrillo was on. For the second time that day, he was buried by falling metal & concrete. Once again, he was rescued.
When Joe woke up, he was in the operating room of a New Jersey hospital.
Because he was wearing gear from another firefighter, Torrillo was soon declared dead. The borrowed gear had the name of another firefighter written on it. Once the mistake was corrected, Torrillo’s amazing story of survival came out.
343 New York City Firefighters died trying to rescue those trapped in the towers. After three days of search & rescue operations, Torrillo was the only one found alive.
Today, Torrillo “travels the world as a professional speaker with a quest to make our country the “Re-United States of America”, resurrecting patriotism, trumpeting the men and women of the Armed Services, mentoring adolescents, and inspiring audiences of all sizes to embrace change and never give up on their dreams.”
Four days before the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, Torrillo spoke at a 9-11 memorial in San Diego.
The firefighter who has seen so much had a message for those who hate America. His message? If you don’t like living in the land of freedom and opportunity, feel free to pack your bags.
Watch his epic response to those who believe they are “oppressed” in the country that affords everyone an equal chance to pursue their dreams & happiness.
Last year, Torrillo spoke to a group of schoolchildren in Jacksonville, Florida. He told them,
“I’m here to remind you and everyone else that we owe no excuse to any groups of people or to any other nation because we say we’re proud to be an American. You should be proud of that because 1,343,812 men and women laid down their lives to defend our liberty.
“We all have an obligation to live our lives in a way that will leave this country a better place for our children and grandchildren.”
In 2013, Lieutenant Torrillo gave an amazingly inspirational speech to the Future Farmers of America. In his speech he says that he doesn’t know why God saved him on September 11th, but that people tell him God has a new purpose for his life. That new purpose? To spread a message to youth to “be the hero” that he as a firefighter always looked for. It’s a lengthy video, but well worth the watch.
Hats off to this patriot who gave so much in defense of his country, who ran headlong into the inferno that was 9-11 to save those he didn’t know. He exemplifies the qualities that all Americans should strive to possess – Grateful to abide in the home of the brave, and thankful to live in the land of the free.
Lieutenant Torrillo can be contacted at joetorrillo.com.