On Wednesday, November 9, more than 200 Bismarck-Mandan Young Professional Network members, along with local Bismarck and Mandan fire and police departments, YPN business partners and sponsors gathered to hear the story of retired FDNY Lieutenant, Joe Torrillo.
Torrillo started his career with Engine 10, across from the south tower of the World Trade Center. After 15 years of service he “climbed the ladder, no pun intended…” and was promoted to Lieutenant. He was severely injured during a rescue in 1997, landing him on “desk duty” in the Office of Fire Safety Education. Joe found a hidden talent as a communicator speaking to schools and ultimately created the “Fire Zone” learning center in the heart of NYC, which featured a Broadway-quality, visual, multi-sensory, educational, award-winning show.
The morning of September 11, 2001, Torrillo was on his way to a press conference with Fischer Price to unveil the new fireman “Rescue Hero,” when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the north tower of the WTC. He rushed to his old firehouse, borrowed a uniform, then ran out to the street as United Airlines Flight 175 flew over his head, striking the south tower. As Joe was running to escape the crumbling south tower, the pressure from the air and collapsing building ripped his helmet off his head and he was lifted to his feet and landed at the Marriott Hotel, between the towers, when the hotel collapsed, burying him underneath. He was soon found and brought to a boat that had come from Jersey, as the north tower collapsed on the back of the boat, where he was buried again. Miraculously rescued for the second time, Torrillo was admitted to the hospital, but because of the borrowed uniform with the name of another firefighter, he was not recognized until three days after the attacks.
In 2004, Joe retired on medical disability; the time had come to re-invent himself. Torrillo started volunteering at Ground Zero, and eventually embraced his new mission of “resurrecting patriotism and love of country.” He started the “Patriot Flag” project, in memory of the victims and their families and paying homage to local first responders. He took the flag to 275 cities, representing all 50 states in 50 weeks.
Torrillo also started the “World Memorial” traveling exhibit, showcasing a variety of display materials helping to share the story and honor those who lost their lives on 9/11. For all of his incredible efforts towards our country, Joe was given a congressional medal of honor in 2015.
He transitioned his story to share with the group that we all should have a “moral obligation to get America back up on a pedestal.” Through his various experiences joining the fire department and in his leadership roles, Joe shared great insights he’s gathered over the years, such “you’ll never know your true strength until your weakest moment; then encouraging young professionals and all of those present to “embrace the team concept” and pull others to new heights; to “lead from the front, not behind.”
Everyone can be a leader and a patriot, both personally and professionally, in our workplaces and in the community. “Life can’t get any better than in the USA.” Thank you for sharing your story, Joe.