Standing at five feet six inches with a thick mustache and his NYC firefighter uniform, Joe Torrillo told his story to a packed Ragan Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 11. Describing himself as “just an Italian from Brooklyn,” Torrillo recounted how he was buried twice in the collapse of the World Trade Centers along with his subsequent recovery.
The ROTC Color Guard opened the event with a presentation of the American flag, followed by the national anthem sung by Kylie Burnelle. Erin Haskell, UVUSA vice president of academics, presented Torrillo.
Torrillo spoke of his experience as a firefighter starting in Firehouse 10, located across the street from the World Trade Center, as well as his promotion to Lieutenant and transfer to another firehouse. He detailed his story of being injured and then becoming head of the Office of Fire Safety Education. With this responsibility, Torillo built a new learning center from the ground up and created an impetus that moved fire education to a whole new level in NYC.
Torrillo’s learning center won an Emmy Award, and he was then contacted by Fisher Price to create a new firefighter toy as part of their “Rescue Heroes” action figure line.
Torrillo was en route to a press conference with Fisher Price in September 2001 when the first hijacked plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Forgoing his opportunity for the press conference, Torrillo decided to join his brother firefighters of Firehouse 10 in the rescue effort at the towers.
While he was helping at the North Tower, he said the second plane passed over his head. Torrillo said it was at that point that he “knew we were under a terrorist attack.”
In college, Torrillo had been an engineering student under the professor in charge of pouring the concrete for the construction of the towers. His professor took students on trips to the building site. Torrillo said it was because of this experience that he understood the dangerous possibility of the towers’ impending collapse.
While hurrying people away from the looming destruction, Torrillo was buried in the collapse of the South Tower. He suffered multiple broken limbs and crushed ribs. In what he described as a miracle, Torrillo was found and put on a boat to New Jersey for medical care. While Torrillo was being transported, the North Tower collapsed and he was once again showered with rubble.
For three days, Joe Torrillo was declared dead by rescue officials. Prior to the attack, he had borrowed the gear of another firefighter from Firehouse 10 and the coat had the name of another man. Torrillo had been misidentified.
Following his recovery, Torrillo said he has dedicated his life to bettering America and encouraged others to do the same. He counseled students to remember “the heroes without a uniform” and to be heroes to others in whatever way they can.
The event closed with a presentation of appreciation of local firefighters by Orem Mayor James Evans and an expression of gratitude from UVUSA.
Joshua Wartena is a senior studying Journalism and Spanish at UVU and will graduate in Fall 2014. He is hoping to work as a middle-east correspondent or long-form magazine writer in South America. Josh is currently living in Orem and is the Opinions Section Editor