Retired firefighters share devastating 9/11 experiences
As memories fade of the horrifying 9/11 attacks with many people, the lingering effects continue to take a toll on the public safety heroes who handled the search and rescue efforts.
What many people don’t realize is the emergency responders who survived the horrible tragedy that killed thousands are just now beginning to suffer devastating diseases from the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster.
“Everybody has something wrong with them,” said Tom delPino, who retired from his New York City firefighter job in 2003, two years after the attacks. He was one of four firefighters who presented at the 9/11 display during last week’s Dodge County Fair. “There were 500 chemicals in that dust (after the attacks),” he said.
Since the 9/11 attacks, 125 responders have died from illnesses linked directly to dust exposure while assisting in the rescue and recovery efforts, according to delPino. “Almost everyone has some sort of symptom from the dust,” he said, noting 2,000 rescuers are now battling cancer.
In delPino’s case, he’s battling sinus problems and has had surgery to correct the issues. “I have bouts at night when I can’t breath,” he said. But, he quickly added, “I’m one of the lucky ones. There are other guys who can’t have a normal life anymore.”
On 9/11, delPino responded to the Twin Towers with his fire engine company. “The first tunnel was already down and the second tunnel fell down right in front of us,” he said. “We were in a cloud of dust that day.”
The horrifying images of what happened that fateful day will be forever etched in delPino’s mind. “Most of our brother firefighters were never found,” he said. “I’m still bitter from that day. I’m mad at the people who did it,” he added.
He shared the story of one firefighter who drove a fire truck carrying 12 others to the scene. The driver was the only one who came out alive. “That poor guy who drove the fire truck is a mess,” delPino said.
delPino lost a fellow partner from his fire house. Afterwards, he went to take care of the deceased partner’s family consisting of two children. “That’s the toughest thing I ever had to do,” he said.
For years after the attacks, delPino could not talk about what happened. In recent years, he has taken to traveling with Stephen Siller’s “Tunnel to Tower” display as a way to cope. “It’s therapeutic,” delPino said. “Talking to other people really helps me,” he added.
He has no regrets of being involved with 9/11. But one thing haunts him to this day. “I just wish we could have saved more people that day,” delPino said.
The 9/11 survivor is quick to deflect the hero status that many people have given him and others. “We’re not the heroes,” delPino said. “The heroes were the ones that didn’t come home that day.”
Danny Price, another retired New York firefighter, was supposed to be working on 9/11, but took the day off to be in Minnesota with family. Price rushed back to