For Joe Torrillo, it was a first.
The man who survived the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City 20 years ago was the keynote speaker at the North Dakota Firefighters Convention Saturday.
It was the first time Torrillo had been to Bowman, but not the first time he had been to North Dakota. “I have made presentations in Bismarck and Fargo. I also have been to Minot,” he said Saturday after he finished two presentations.
The first was in the morning as part of a memorial service at Bowman High School’s Solberg gym. The second presentation was in the 4 Seasons building on the Bowman County Fairground.
Just outside the door to the 4 Seasons building, the large trailer with the Tunnels to Towers charitable display also reminding the visitors of the stories of survival and sacrifice which were born when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsed.
Torrillo, a retired lieutenant with the New York City Fire Department, said he enjoyed the convention. “It was awesome. I met a great bunch of people. It was a great crowd. It was much bigger than I thought it would be. I wish I could come back some day and do more presentations,” he said. After the luncheon wrapped up, he spent some time with a group of firefighters from Casselton. “I get a chance to talk to them and hear some of their stories,” he added.
Torrillo said that he would be flying out of Bowman Airport Sunday morning to the airport outside Dickinson, where he will catch a connecting flight through Denver back to New York.
He’ll be back – almost.
Torrillo said that he would be coming back to the Northern Plains for two days of presentations at the Montana Firefighters Convention which starts June 11 in Shelby, a town 85 miles north of Great Falls.
For the former New York firefighter, it was about the eighth presentation he has made this year. “I usually do about 20,” he said.
He said that he has approximately 37 presentations for the clients to choose from, then he also customizes the speech even more.
An active New York City firefighter in 2001, Torrillo was planning to head to a press conference to address a new children’s safety initiative he was involved in when the planes hit the towers. He had both the north and south towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan collapse on him.
The proximity of the 9/11 trailer came as a little bit of a surprise. He said that he has nothing but respect for what they are doing, noting that about 96 percent of the funds raised for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation goes back into it. “I would help them any way I could as a volunteer,” Torrillo said.
The foundation was started as a memorial for Siller.
According to the foundation website, Siller came in on his day off. Stephen, who was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Upon hearing the news, Stephen called his wife Sally and asked her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later. He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear.
Stephen drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes. Determined to carry out his duty, he strapped 60 lbs. of gear to his back, and raced on foot through the tunnel to the Twin Towers, where he gave up his life while saving others, the web page explained.
It is reported that Siller was the youngest of seven children. At the age of eight, he lost his father, and a year and a half later his mother passed away, leaving him an orphan to be raised by his older siblings.