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9-11 hero to speak at first responders’ event

A hero who knows what sacrifice means will be the speaker at an event honoring first responders named Duty Calls: Honoring Our First Responders.

The event is tonight, at 6 p.m. at the Julie Rogers Theater, 765 Pearl St.

This free event is an opportunity for the city of Beaumont and surrounding communities to honor local first responders. Lt. Joe Torrillo, retired New York City Firefighter, is the guest speaker.

He was buried alive during the collapse of both Twin Towers.

“His inspiring words and moving message will help honor those who selfishly serve to keep all citizens safe every day. Through generous donations a daily devotional that is published for first responders will be ceremonially gifted to Beaumont Police, Firefighters and EMS,” a press release read.

“I’ll speak about how my day began on Sept. 11 and what it means to wear a uniform and to serve the community,” Torrillo said. “I’ll speak about the sacrifices first responders make and the sacrifices their families make.”

“I also want to thank all of the first responders back home in New York City and those from other cities and small towns who came for rescue and recovery.”

Torrillo almost died in the 9-11 attacks when the buildings collapsed and he was covered in a pile of steel and concrete rubble. He suffered fractures to his skull, neck and spine, and had internal injuries.

“I was buried in the darkness,” he said. Torrillo said he could hear others yelling in the debris. The screams turned to crying, then to whimpers and then finally gave way to silence.

“One by one they all died,” he said. “And I was still alive.”

Rescuers who could hear the beeping of his firefighter oxygen equipment finally dug him out. Taken to a boat on the Hudson River he heard them saying that he could die.

Torrillo, now retired, had started out that day heading to a press conference where a

Fisher-Price action figure that he helped design was going to be unveiled. Called “Billy Blazes,” the toy was made to represent a New York City firefighter.

The figure sported a big bushy mustache, just like Torrillo’s. But he ended up racing to his firehouse instead, where he ditched the dress uniform and grabbed that of another firefighter who was off that day. When doctors later cut his clothes off at the hospital he was admitted under that man’s name.

Torrillo said he was listed as dead for three days until the mistake was discovered.

Survivor’s guilt followed. Torrillo said he questioned why God did not let him go to

heaven with his fellow firefighters. He thought maybe he wasn’t good enough.

Now, he believes he was saved for a reason, so he could tell the others’ stories to make sure a grateful nation will never forget.

David Ball: 409-721-2427