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Former NYC Firefighter Jim Torrillo Recalls Horror Of 9/11

Joe Torrillo with French President Jacques Chirac in 2003 (credit: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)

Joe Torrillo with French President Jacques Chirac in 2003 (credit: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - The 11th anniversary of 9/11 brings back truly scary stories from that day back in 2001.

WCBS 880′s Jim Smith On The Story


The morning of September 11th was actually supposed to be big for then Lt. Joe Torrillo. He was set to unveil a new firefighter children’s toy made by Fisher Price.

Little did he know, it was almost the last day of his life, as he changed course and went to a damaged World Trade Center.

“I was there 14 minutes after the first plane struck,” Torrillo told WCBS 880 reporter Jim Smith.

He had borrowed another firefighter’s gear.

“By 9:03, I was already running out of the firehouse towards the north tower,” he said.

Then the second plane hit.

“I saw it hit the building and the south tower looked almost as if it sucked the jet into it like a vacuum cleaner,” he said.

The scene was then set for Torrillo to cheat death, starting with an ominous premonition.

“I said ‘Everybody on the tops of these buildings are gonna die’ and I said ‘These buildings are gonna collapse,’” he said. “People looked at me like I had two heads.”

It was a warning not even Torrillo, who was consumed with the evacuation process, acted on, as he was buried alive not just once, but twice.

“All of a sudden, I heard a loud rumble… I looked up and here comes the building,” he said.

It was instant when death stared him in the face.

“So now I’m saying to myself, ‘You probably got about eight to ten seconds left to live,” he said.

“The south tower basically fell fell on top of the Marriott hotel, split the hotel in half, and I guess the hotel fell on top of me,” he said. “110 floors, you know, hitting each other almost like a fireplace bellows, boom boom boom boom boom boom boom, and as I’m running, I can feel wind and air pressure on my back.”

When rescuers arrived, his head was split open and his ribs were broken.

“Now I’m buried underneath this twisted steel and concrete and I’m suffocating. There was no air. It was darker than midnight,” he said. “People are screaming at the top of their lungs. But nobody could see each other. Nobody could move.”

He thought this was his final resting place.

“All of those screams had turned turned into cries and cries had turned into whimpers and whimpers had turned into silence. One by one, I imagined they had all died and I was still alive,” he said.

He was pulled out and put on a rescue boat on the Hudson River, but he was not done facing death in the face.

“All of the sudden, there was another loud rumble and a roar and people on the boat started screaming ‘Oh my God. Here comes the other tower,’” he said.

It was a worst nightmare happening again.

“Now the north tower basically is falling on top of the boat,” he said.

But he survived and the boat got him across the river to a hospital in Jersey City.

“I was wearing another firefighter’s clothing and we all write our name on the inside of our jacket. It said ‘Thomas McNamara.’ So I was admitted into the hospital as Thomas McNamara and I, Joe Torrillo, was declared dead that night,” he said.

He has since retired and now retells his story at speaking enagements around the world, in memory of the heroes of 9/11.

What’s your 9/11 story? Please share it in the comments section below.