Buried Alive: 9/11 firefighter speaks in Grand Junction

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO/KJCT)-- In honor of Veterans Day, the Colorado Mesa University Veterans Association invited a speaker with a powerful story to their All Services Ball on Saturday.

His name is Joe Torrillo, and he was literally pulled from the wreckage not once, but twice during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Joe spent twenty-five years as a lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, and was headed to a press conference with Fisher-Price Toy company on the morning of September 11th, 2001. This is his story.

“That’s how the whole day started. With a new Rescue Hero that I helped design for Fisher-Price Toys, and I chose the date not knowing what would happen. And as I was getting ready to leave fire department headquarters to go to the press conference somebody said a plane just hit the World Trade Center," Torrillo said.

Joe said he could see the Twin Towers, and the firehouse where he started his career was just down the street.

"Make a right, I go to the press conference, make a left I go to my old firehouse and jump into action. And that’s what I did. I got to my old firehouse, which is right across the street from the south tower, took off my dress uniform, borrowed a set of firefighter clothing from a fireman that was off duty, ran out of the firehouse," Torrillo said.

He said the building started to crumble down less than a minute after impact.

"I hear a boom, and I looked up and I thought a bomb had exploded on the top of the building, because the top of the building had just started pushing out like a mushroom. And then a piece of steel hit me in the back of the head, and split my head wide open, and huge slabs of concrete were just hitting my body, and now I'm pinned under all this steel and concrete," Torrillo said.

"People, they were all screaming at the top of their lungs but we can’t see each other and we can’t move. After a while, those screams had turned to cries, and the cries to whimpers, and then the whimpers into silence. One by one I imagined they had all died and I was in the middle of all these fires," Torrillo said.

Joe was finally found by rescue crews, and taken to a boat nearby, but he wasn't safe for long.

"Then there was another loud rumble and roar and everybody on the boat starts screaming, 'oh my god, here comes the other tower.' I'm strapped down on a spine board, everyone else on the boat had jumped overboard into the river and I'm stuck behind," Torrillo said.

Joe slowly found his way to the door of the engine room of the boat.

"And after about an hour of almost losing consciousness, I heard people jumping on the deck of the boat and I heard voices and a commotion, and somebody came into the engine room to start the motor and found me. God spared me, and I get to tell the story of the real heroes who are carried to their graves," Torrillo said.

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