Toms River Library Branch Welcomes 9/11 Survivor

By Eric Englund | Sep 04, 2019

Toms River — Buried, crushed and bleeding beneath the rubble of the South Tower, Joe Torrillo wondered what life could be if given just one more day. Miraculously found alive, he was buried again under the debris of the second collapse minutes after being rescued.

The retired lieutenant from the New York City Fire Department will share his inspiring story and his lessons on how to manage fear under the most horrible situations on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 6:30 p.m. at the main branch of the Ocean County Library in Toms River in a program sponsored by the Ocean County Library Foundation.

On his website, Torrillo said that on the morning of Sept. 11, he was on his way to an unrelated press conference  that was set for 9 a.m. He was an eighth of a mile away from the World Trade Center when American Airlines Flight No. 111 struck the South Tower at 8:46 a.m. Fearing for his firefighter colleagues in Engine Co. 10 and Ladder Co. 10 across the street from the towers, Torrrillo diverted to the scene to render assistance.

Three minutes after he donned borrowed bunker gear, the second jet flew over his head and slammed into the South Tower. With a background in structural engineering, he made an immediate assessment that everyone above the fire was doomed to death, and the buildings would collapse.

While he was involved in the rescue operation, the South Tower fell at 9:59 a.m. Torrillo was buried alive with a fractured skull, broken ribs, broken arm, crushed spine and heavy internal bleeding. Shortly after being found alive in the rubble, he was removed on a long spine board and placed on the deck of a boat on the Hudson River, with the expectation of getting him to a hospital.

As emergency personnel were holding his split scalp together, the North Tower fell and buried him again. He was once again rescued from the debris and taken across the Hudson River, where he awoke in a hospital room at the Jersey City Trauma Center. Because he was wearing a borrowed set of firefighting clothing with the name Thomas McNamara, he was misidentified by that name, and was declared missing for three days.

By the time the sun set on the evening of Sept.11, he had miraculously survived the collapse of both towers, but with life-long injuries.

Susan Quinn, library system executive director, said the library foundation was formed nearly 20 years ago.

“While it operates similar to library Friends organizations, it raises funds for major projects outside the library budget and tax dollars,” she said. “They were vital in raising money for the expansion of the Toms River branch in which its size was doubled.”

To register for the program, call the Toms River branch at 743-349-6200 or log onto theoceancountylibrary.org. —E.E.

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