We Never Forget
Note: This article originally ran in our September 2011 issue.
Firefighter Joe Scarda was still a teacher on September 10, when he took his medical test for the fire academy. Though he wasn’t yet a firefighter, he was about to face his biggest challenge of all. Scarda, along with his class, was still inside their school when the first tower started to come crumbling down. The faculty brought the kids down to Battery Park to keep them safe, and afterward Scarda headed down to Ground Zero, thinking his certification in first aid and CPR would be helpful. But when he got down there, the area was a ghost town and he was told only emergency personnel were authorized to help.
The experience never left him. And it became even more meaningful when he learned one of his good friends, firefighter Daniel Suhr, died when someone jumping from the towers landed on him. In memory of his fallen friend and to commemorate his transition from teacher to firefighter, Scarda had a memorial tattoo inked by renowned NYC artist Anil Gupta. “He’s a real spiritual guy,” Scarda says of Gupta. “He had a dream the night before of an hourglass breaking through a window. And he tells me he’d be honored to tattoo it on me.” The hourglass stems are made of the numbers 911 and 343, to represent the number of firefighters who perished that day. To complete the tattoo, Scarda had Suhr’s football jersey number tattooed, as well as a picture of a child and a self-portrait of him in his firefighter gear.
Months after the attacks, Peter Vega was discovered in the wreckage of the Marriott Hotel—identified in part by his distinctive yin-yang tattoo. Eventually, his brother David Rosenberg, learned what had happened. It seems Vega, along with fellow firefighters from Ladder 118, had gone into the hotel to free people trapped in an elevator after the hotel swimming pool had cracked and flooded the elevator shafts. The people they freed made it to safety, but Vega and five others from Ladder 118 stayed to help more people escape, and, as a result, perished when the towers fell.
On 9/11, Rosenberg was sleeping late, but a phone call from his mother woke him from his slumber. He soon learned his older brother was at the World Trade Center, and when a week had gone by and Vega still hadn’t been found, Rosenberg knew his brother wasn’t coming back. As a tribute, Rosenberg had a memorial tattoo inked on his chest. “Peter was good to so many people whether they were close to him or barely knew him,” Rosenberg says. “He wasn’t perfect, but he was a good man and a great big brother. I constantly miss him.”
FDNY calendar star Santo Ciccarello isn’t all good looks. This lieutenant firefighter was a police officer on 9/11, but soon realized his true calling was with NYC’s bravest. He was asleep the morning of 9/11 when his phone started ringing off the hook. He finally picked up and, at the behest of his friend, turned on the TV to watch in horror as the second plane hit the South Tower. But unlike most people, Ciccarello was unable to just stay at home transfixed to the news. After overcoming his initial shock, he knew that he immediately had to report to his precinct.
Together with several other officers, Ciccarello made it to Ground Zero hours later, where he was assigned to search and rescue. The scenes shown on TV didn’t come remotely close to what Ciccarello and his fellow responders saw. “It was like a third world country down there,” he remembers. “You couldn’t even put it in words. We found pieces and parts of people, rarely a whole body.” Ciccarello continued to work on search and rescue for months, looking for signs of life alongside his father, a retired New York City firefighter who wanted to help with rescue efforts despite his retired status.
Becoming a New York City firefighter was less a shift in career than it was answering a calling. “I was very street smart, so I just got pulled into the police force,” he says. “But I’d always wanted to be a fireman. You’ll hear from any fireman that you ever speak to that it’s the best job in the world.”