How One Actor Became a Hero After 9/11

'There was a feeling in the air that we all need to come together, we all need to help each other,' said Steve Buscemi

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 14 Sep 2017 at 12:23 PM

You probably know Steve Buscemi as a character actor from films such “Billy Madison” or “The Big Lebowski.” You may even know him from his lead role in five seasons of the HBO drama “Boardwalk Empire.”

You likely don’t know him, however, as a former firefighter for the FDNY’s Engine Company 55 in Little Italy. Before he became a professional actor, Buscemi served as a firefighter for four years, from 1980 to 1984.

Though it's not a job such a successful filmmaker like Buscemi would likely ever go back to, on the day after Sept. 11, 2001, he returned to his old company to suit up and help in rescue and recovery efforts following the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Buscemi reportedly worked 12-hour shifts every day for a week, digging through the rubble and carnage along with his fellow firefighters. He helped to find missing people and bodies and refused to take photographs or give press interviews.

It wasn't until later that people discovered what Buscemi had done. The actor has remained humble about his efforts.

"I was down at the site and I was trying to help out there any way I could with my old company, Engine 55."

"I wouldn't say I helped with rescue efforts. I was down at the site and I was just trying to help out there any way that I could with my old company, Engine 55. But that was an incredible ... event where you saw all of humanity there and you just saw all of New York come together," Buscemi told The Street in a 2015 interview.

He continued, "As tragic as it was, there was a feeling in the air that we all need to come together and we all need to help each other."

Buscemi has continued to stay involved in his old profession by helping firefighters through the Friends of Firefighters foundation.

"It was started by Nancy Carbone right after 9/11," Buscemi told The Street. "They supply wellness and mental health support to firefighters, active and retired, and to their families."

Related: This New Movie About 9/11 Is Dividing Audiences

The 59-year-old actor added, "Firefighters are great at helping other people, [but] they're sometimes shy about asking for help for themselves if they need it."

In an interview with Salon about his days serving as a firefighter, Buscemi revealed it was a job he enjoyed and one he would still have today if he did not feel the burning desire to be an artist.

"I liked the job — the guys I worked with and the nature of the work. I think I would have been happy doing it if I hadn't had a greater passion for acting."

To learn more about Friends of Firefighters, click here.

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