Juan Rivera paused to wipe away tears and apologized for the interruption.
He was trying to tell his story on this September Monday in Manhattan, flashing back to that awful September Tuesday in 2001 from inside the Engine 22/Ladder 13/Battalion 10 firehouse on East 85th Street.
The firefighter was 33 at the time and had been scheduled to work the night of Sept. 10 and the day of 9/11. But another firefighter, Tommy Casoria, called him up, needing to trade a shift.
“Yeah, no problem, we’ll swap,” Rivera told him.
So Rivera took his son to school that morning instead. His wife was eight months pregnant and at work in Manhattan. She called to tell Rivera a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. He went to go bring her home to the Bronx, then came to the firehouse before heading to Ground Zero with about five colleagues. He arrived at 11:30 or so to find a fire truck burning, dust everywhere and very little noise.
“It was just very eerie,” Rivera said.
There are pictures of nine of Rivera’s colleagues from that time hanging on a side wall near the back of the firehouse. The two rows are by a plaque saluting “The Yorkville 9,” the firefighters from this place who were killed in the collapse of the towers, including Casoria. Six Mets stared up at the tribute Monday, one day before the 17th anniversary. It was a visit meant to express that the organization remembers the fallen heroes of 9/11 and appreciates the dangerous work firefighters do.
“I think it’s absolutely great,” Rivera said. “It keeps it going. As many fans as the Mets have, that’s awesome that they don’t forget the guys who passed away on 9/11.”
This is a tradition for the Mets at this time of year. They visit a city firehouse that suffered losses on that fateful day. There were 343 members of the FDNY who perished.
“I think that’s a big reason why we’re here is just to remember their sacrifice and remember them going into work that day not expecting what would happen and ultimately sacrificing their lives for others,” said Steven Matz, who was on hand with Todd Frazier, Brandon Nimmo, Corey Oswalt, Paul Sewald and Drew Gagnon to speak to the firefighters, sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Matz invites firefighters, other first responders and military personnel to games and meets with them there through his “Tru32” program. The lefty from Stony Brook was a 10-year-old student at Nassakeag Elementary School in East Setauket at the time of 9/11.
“It’s 17 years ago now and I just remember I was in fifth grade and how tragic it was and how much panic it was,” Matz said. “I can’t even imagine being this close to it and having these guys have to go in there on call with all that was going on. It’s really just an honor to be here.”
Frazier was a 15-year-old freshman at Toms River South High in New Jersey on 9/11.
“I remember like it was yesterday,” the third baseman said. “I was in history class and a buddy of mine came up to me and said, ‘The World Trade Center went down.’ To me, it hit home because I’m an hour away from this . . . I’m just glad to be here and support the firefighters in this firehouse because it’s one of the toughest jobs in the world.”
Billy Coleman does that job out of this firehouse. He also appreciated the visit.
“It’s never been lost on us that the Mets since the beginning, especially at the forefront of 9/11, were there to support us,” Coleman said. “Mike Piazza adopted a family right off the bat. David Wright has been a huge supporter of us. Every year they turn out and reinforce that bond to make us remember that the New York Mets are in our corner.”