Firefighters explain their 'purpose' to students at 9/11 museum
Twenty-five high school students visited the museum thanks to local fire, police and EMS union members
By Anna Bisaro
New Haven Register
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — On Sept. 11, 2001, Paul Vercillo, now a history teacher at Riverside Education Academy, ran from his offices on Wall Street toward Brooklyn. Something that profoundly sticks out in his mind is that there were men and women in uniform running the other direction, toward the burning towers.
On Wednesday, Vercillo will visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum for the first time with 25 high school students in tow, thanks to the local police, fire and EMS union members who donated to the trip.
“We wanted to explain to them not just what happened on 9/11, but that the legacy is connected to people right here in the community,” Vercillo said.
Representatives from the New Haven Fire Department and local EMS personnel visited Riverside Education Academy Tuesday to talk to the students before the trip Wednesday morning.
Frank Ricci, a battalion chief in the Fire Department and president of IAFF Local 825, said he was not very enthusiastic about going to the union board and asking for the $500 donation when Vercillo first approached him with his idea for the trip to the memorial. Ricci said the memorial is a burial ground for more than 300 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11, and he does not agree with many of the decisions made by the museum creators in how they chose to mark the event.
“(Firefighters) knew when they went in that building, they were not coming back,” Ricci said. “It’s not a museum. It’s a graveyard.”
But Ricci said he agreed to approach the board about the donation after Vercillo said he could come and talk to the students about his concerns. He encouraged the students on their trip to treat the memorial with respect and remember that other people at the memorial with them on Wednesday may be there to mourn a lost loved one.
Also there to represent the Fire Department was Kevin Reilly, who has been a firefighter in New Haven for three years. On 9/11, Reilly was working for a fire department in New Jersey and he said it was important to remember that the people chose to be there and risked everything to help others.
“They knew they probably weren’t coming out of that building, and they went in anyway,” Reilly said.
He added that being a firefighter is a selfless job, and he encouraged the high school students to pursue a career that would allow them to give back.
Michael Montanaro, president of the IAEP, Local 999, said the union, which represents EMTs and paramedics, did not hesitate to chip in $500 for the trip to the memorial.
“It was a really dark day for EMS and for the rest of the world,” Montanaro said of 9/11. “We all wanted you to see the purpose of what we do.”
Montanaro added that the students, who were all around age 4 or 5 at the time of the tragedy, might feel overwhelmed at the site.
“Take what you see and let it sink into you,” Montanaro said. “You will realize how fragile human life can be.”
Police Sgt. Shafiq Abdussabur, treasurer of the New Haven Police Union Local 530, did not attend the presentation for the students Tuesday, but said the police union was excited to give $500 to the field trip.
“We love our teenagers here. ... We believe in them,” Abdussabur said. “We are going to put our money where our mouth is.”
Vercillo said the students were chosen by Riverside Education Academy staff to be able to go on the trip. The group will travel from Union Station and take the subway to lower Manhattan to get to the museum. He said it was important for the kids to learn how to get there using public transportation so they can be exposed to the whole experience of traveling to and from New York City.
“It’s not just the destination, it’s the process of getting there,” Vercillo said.
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