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9/11 first responder's foundation helps disabled vet

Triple-amputee Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez and his wife

Triple-amputee Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez and his wife Alexis in front of their new smart home in Temecula, Calif., on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11, terrorist attacks. (Sept. 11, 2012) Credit: AP

Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez lost his legs and right arm in a bomb blast two years ago in Afghanistan.

Rockville Centre native and New York City firefighter Stephen Siller lost his life in the 9/11 attacks.

They never met, but they're deeply connected just the same, Dominguez said.

"Whether military, firefighter or police, we were first responders," he said. "We were the first ones there when the terrorists came and the first ones to avenge the deaths" that resulted.

Later this month, Dominguez, 28, of New Mexico will move into a Temecula, Calif., "smart home" built with funds raised in part by the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The nonprofit is best known for its annual 5-kilometer run commemorating Siller's heroic dash through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers.

Dominguez's two-story home is equipped with automatic door openers, kitchen cabinets that mechanically lower for easier access, an elevator and other wheelchair-friendly features. He can activate many of those features with the touch of an iPad.

The house was dedicated Tuesday at the exact time the south tower fell 11 years ago. Siller's body hasn't been recovered, but his family believes the 34-year-old died somewhere in the ruins, trying to save lives.

"Juan Dominguez gets his life back at the very moment Stephen Siller lost his life," John Hodge, of New Fairfield, Conn., Siller's cousin, said of the independence the former Marine is regaining.

The home is the third that the Siller foundation, in cooperation with the Gary Sinise Foundation, has built for a war amputee. A dozen more are in the works.

Russell Siller, of Rockville Centre, one of Stephen's brothers, said the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is about "renewal, resurrection, houses being built."

"All sorts of good things have happened," he said Tuesday. "We have not been defeated."

The homes cost about $500,000 on average to build. Dominguez and his wife, Alexis, will be responsible for property taxes and utility bills.

Frank Siller, of Staten Island, said he's pleased that some good has come from his brother's sacrifice.

"You're allowed to mourn, but you can't stay there," he said. "You have to do something good, and this is good."

Dominguez said he chose a two-story house because, "I don't want to be limited to one story. I want to be as normal as possible."

Next week, he is to undergo surgery to help his prosthetics better fit. They will help him climb the stairs in his home, and one day, he hopes, allow him to participate in the Tunnel to Towers run.

Next month, he marks the second anniversary of the fateful day he stepped on a buried bomb in Afghanistan's war-scarred Helmand province.

"We don't call it an anniversary," he said of fellow soldiers who have escaped death. "We call it an 'alive day.' "

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