On 9/11, Steve Buscemi returned to his old firefighter job to help search for survivors

Hollywood actor trained as a firefighter before pursuing an acting career

Roisin O'Connor
Monday 11 September 2023 13:46 BST
Distress calls from 9/11 relive the trauma of the attacks

On 11 September 2001, Steve Buscemi – the US actor known for his depictions of gangsters and weirdos in shows such as The Sopranos and The Big Lebowski – returned to his old job as a New York City firefighter.

He worked 12-hour shifts for several days alongside other firefighters, searching for survivors in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Buscemi, now 65, had taken the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) civil service test when he was 18 and used to work as a FDNY firefighter in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s.

He later left the service to become an actor but has remained in touch with New York firefighter causes. He is often seen speaking at union rallie, and hosted the HBO documentary A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY.

At the time, Buscemi said of his efforts during the rescue: “It was a privilege to be able to do it. It was great to connect with the firehouse I used to work with and with some of the guys I worked alongside. And it was enormously helpful for me because while I was working, I didn’t really think about it as much, feel it as much.”

He rarely discusses his contributions to the rescue efforts, but did reflect on the experience in an interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast.

“I was depressed, I was anxious, I couldn’t make a simple decision,” said Buscemi of the moment he learnt of the attacks. He called his old firehouse then, receiving no reply, headed to the site, where he found his former engine company.

“I asked if I could join them,” he said, adding: “I could tell they were a little suspicious at first, but I worked with them that day.”

Buscemi told Maron that, while he hadn’t experienced any health issues, he “definitely” suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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“I was only there for like five days, but when I stopped going and tried to just live my life again, it was really, really hard,” he said.

Steve Buscemi pictured in June 2021

The Fargo star said he can still feel triggered on anniversaries, or when asked about that time.

“There are times when I talk about 9/11 and I’m right back there,” he said. “I start to get choked up and I realise, ‘Ah, this is still a big part of me.’”

In 2013, the Brotherhood of Fire Facebook page reminded people of his selfless act of courage, writing beneath a picture of Buscemi: “Do you recognise this man? Do you know his name? Lots of people know he’s an actor, and that his name is Steve Buscemi. What very few people realise is that he was once one of New York’s Bravest.

“In 1976 Steve Buscemi took the FDNY civil service test when he was just 18 years old. In 1980 Steve Buscemi became a New York City Firefighter. For four years, Buscemi served on one of FDNY’s busiest, Engine Co. 55 in Manhattan’s Little Italy. He later left the fire service to become a successful actor, writer and director.

“After 9/11/2001... Brother Buscemi returned to FDNY Engine 55.

“On September 12, 2001 and for several days following Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble from the World Trade Center looking for survivors.

“Very few photographs and no interviews exist because he declined them. He wasn’t there for the publicity.”

Buscemi also been an advocate for firefighters’ welfare, telling CBS News: “Firefighters are great at helping others, they’re great at helping each other. But they’re not always—they don’t always know that they, themselves, are in need.

“Their first reaction would be: ‘Oh, the next guy has it worse, you know?’”

A total of 343 firefighters and paramedics died during the 2001 attacks, while a further 341 firefighters, paramedics and civilian support staff have died in the years since from post-9/11 illnesses.

Buscemi still serves on the Board of Advisors for Friends of Firefighters, an organisation dedicated to New York firefighters and their relatives, alongside fellow actors including Kevin Smith and Gary Sinise, and Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snider.

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