9/11 first responder makes several stops in region | PostIndependent.com

9/11 first responder makes several stops in region

Glenwood Springs was one of Tom del Pino's Western Colorado stops, as he toured the area for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Del Pino visited with Glenwood Springs firefighters Friday morning.
Staff Photo | Provided

How to help

Building for America’s Bravest is a program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation that builds Smart Homes for our most catastrophically injured service members returning home. Each home is custom designed to address the unique needs of each individual.

So far, 22 homes have been built. There are 14 more homes under construction.

To donate directly, go to tunnel2towers.org.

You can also get information through Ruggs Benedict at 970-949-5390, or go to http://www.ruggsbenedict.com

Real heroes don’t throw or kick balls; they don’t slap pucks.

Real heroes run into burning, collapsing buildings when everyone else is running out.

Like New York firefighters Tom del Pino and Stephen Siller.

On Sept. 11, 2001, del Pino was a New York City firefighter with Ladder 85. He turned on a morning news broadcast and stared at the screen.

It couldn’t be real. That couldn’t be true.

One of the other firefighters looked over and asked del Pino what he was watching.

“I think this is real,” del Pino told him.

Suddenly firefighters were screaming over the station’s radio. It was real.

Ladder 85 and everyone else geared up and sped straight into the heart of darkness, where the World Trade Center was collapsing.

The 110-story South Tower collapsed before they arrived. They saw North Tower collapse as they were on their way.

Siller was off duty when 9/11 hit. He went to the station house and found everyone gone. He grabbed his gear, drove his car into the clogged tunnel and was stuck. He jumped out of his car, strapped on his gear and ran into Ground Zero.

He didn’t get out.

Before the day was done, 343 firefighters were among the 3,000 dead in the terrorist attacks.

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is named for him.

Raising money, awareness

Del Pino was at Ruggs Benedict Carpet One in Avon this week, and other locations around the region. He brought a piece of 9/11 Ground Zero steel with him, just to remind us.

The goal is to visit all 1,000 Carpet One affiliates across the country. They’re three-quarters done.

At $100 donated for every flooring job Ruggs Benedict does through the end of the year, Roger Benedict said they might raise $30,000 from the local store for Building for America’s Bravest a program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. They’re asking customers to match it. Multiply that times 1,000 stores and you’re doing some serious good, Benedict said.

Del Pino retired after 20 years with the Fire Department of New York and lives on Staten Island. All the men in his family are police officers, except him, the firefighter.

When all hell broke loose on 9/11 — both literally and metaphorically — every man in his family was called out, so they have that in common, too.

“It raised the hair on your arms as he was talking about it,” said Gigi Zimmerman with Ruggs Benedict. “It makes you remember what it was like that day.”

The South Tower fell first, while del Pino and the others were on their way.

The tunnel the Ladder 85 truck had to take was blocked with panicking people running for their lives. They took a roundabout route, speeding into Lower Manhattan, close to the North Tower when it fell.

If they had made it through that tunnel, they would have been parked right outside the North Tower. It would have fallen on them.

9/11 made several serious attempts to kill del Pino. A guy up the street was giving away bananas, and they’d been there all day. As they were at the stand, a 40-story building fell on top of them. Del Pino and some others survived because they dived under a fire truck.

Dust to death

During his stop at towns around the region, del Pino spoke of the dust that blanketed the city following the attack, and created some of the health issues that he still faces.

He also spoke of those who died in the aftermath of the attack, from that dust and the 500 different chemicals it contained.

Many of those 9/11 first responders did not wear face masks. They’re reasoning was unassailable: The masks were designed to last 15 minutes, barely giving them time to get from their trucks to the building.

“Nonetheless they entered the site, placing their lives and their health on the line to save others,” del Pino said.

More than 50,000 people, many of them first responders, still suffer health problems from the attack.

The Building for America’s Bravest program’s goal is to build and present homes to more than 200 families of 9/11 first responders.

In addition they are reaching out to assist law enforcement officers and other first responders that have suffered from tragic and unexpected assaults on our country.

They were able to raise funds for the families of the two officers who were shot point blank, with no warning as they sat in their patrol car in 2014. With the funds they raised ($1.3 million dollars) they were able to clear the mortgages on both homes and perform some needed maintenance and repairs for the surviving families.

It runs in the family

Del Pino and his brothers didn’t fall far from their father’s tree. The New York Times said Edward del Pino was a police officer for 24 years, and never fired his gun in the line of duty. He did after he retired, though.

One morning as he was headed home on the Staten Island ferry after a 12-hour overnight shift as a security guard in midtown Manhattan, a man with a sword attacked a dozen passengers.

The assailant had already killed two people and was after others, when the del Pino patriarch pulled his chrome-plated .38 revolver and pointed it at him, telling him to drop the two-foot ornamental sword.

The assailant started forward with the sword again and del Pino fired one round. He didn’t hit him, but sent him diving under a bench, where del Pino held him at gunpoint.

Vail Daily staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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