Joe Torrillo was a 25 year Lieutenant with the NYC Fire Dept. who is now retired on disability. He spent the first 15 years of his career in Engine Company # 10, across the street from the South Tower of the World Trade Center. While recuperating from a severe injury on New Years Eve of 1996 going in to 1997, Joe was assigned to convalesce in the office of fire safety education. Eight months into this “light-duty” position, Joe was ultimately named the Director of this public-based program. In his new position, Joe would co-design a children’s state-of-the-art fire safety learning center, that opened in October, 2000. This new venue, “The Fire Zone”, in the heart of Manhattan, was nominated and won the coveted “THEA” award at the Emmy’s in 2002. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2001, Joe worked on a project with Fisher-Price Toys to help design a new children’s “action figure ” part of their line of “Rescue Heroes”. This new action figure, was named “Billy Blazes”, a likeness of a NYC Firefighter, who was an addition to their other “Rescue Heroes”. In conjunction with the Executives of the Fisher-Price Corp., Joe chose the ” Fire Zone ” as the location for the press conference to introduce ” Billy Blazes”, and then keeping with a safety theme, ironically chose the date of 9/11/2001, because 911 is the emergency phone number in New York City.
On the way to the press conference that was set for 9 a.m., Joe was about an eighth of a mile away from the World Trade Center, when American Airlines flight # 11 struck the South Tower at 8:46 am. Fearing for his Firefighter Brothers in Engine Co. 10 and Ladder Co. 10 across the street from the Towers, Joe diverted to the scene to render assistance. Three minutes after donning borrowed “bunker gear” (firefighting clothing) at 9:03 a m., the second jet, flew over Joe’s head and slammed in to the South Tower. With a background in Structural Engineering, Joe made an immediate assessment that everyone above the fire was doomed to death, and the buildings would collapse. Unfortunately in the rescue operation, Joe was buried alive with a fractured skull, broken ribs, broken arm, crushed spine and heavy internal bleeding. Shortly after being found alive in the rubble, they removed Joe on a long spine board and placed him on the deck of a boat on the Hudson River, with the expectation of getting him to a hospital. As they were holding his split scalp together, the North Tower then fell on the boat and buried Joe alive again and alone in the engine room. About 45 minutes later, Joe was once again rescued from the debris, and taken across the Hudson River, where he awoke in an operating room in Jersey City Trauma Center in the state of New Jersey. Because he was wearing a borrowed set of firefighting clothing with the name Thomas McNamara, Joe was mis-identified by that name, and declared missing for 3 days. By the time the sun set on the evening of Sept. 11th, 2001, Joe miraculously survived the collapse of both Towers with lifelong injuries. Sadly, “Billy Blazes” would come to represent the other 343 New York City Firefighters who had made the supreme sacrifice of their lives in the rescue effort.
Joe now travels the world as a public 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 creating harmony and peace with his fellow Americans.