Couple Responds with Courage After 9/11 by Helping at Ground Zero
By Monica Calzolari
Steve Fabrizio has been coming to Oneonta to visit his cousins since he was 9 years old. Born in Rockaway Beach, Fabrizio identifies as a New Yorker from Queens. On September 11, 2001, Fabrizio and his life partner, Lisa Schwartz, said goodbye to each other like every other day.
Fabrizio ran a personal training business out of a gym on 86th Street. His first appointment was at 6 a.m. He describes his clients as “very high-strung Wall Street types who exercised before work.” His partner worked for Merrill Lynch at the time and commuted by subway from their apartment on 57th Street to the World Trade Center.
When a co-worker heard the news of the first plane crashing into one of the twin towers, she pulled Fabrizio aside. They headed up to the roof of their building and were “dumbfounded when we saw the second plane crashing into South Tower.” All Fabrizio could think was “I lost her.”
He cancelled all of his appointments the rest of the day and started walking home for 30 blocks to clear his head.
“It was a terrible feeling. I could not reach Lisa. All cell phone service went out immediately.”
As soon as he got home, his landline phone rang and it was his mother. Then in walks his partner, “haggard and dust covered, but alive!”
Fabrizio added, “I thank the universe quite often that my life partner of 30 years is still with me today.”
As fate would have it, his partner was late for work that day. By the time she arrived at her subway stop, one of the twin towers was coming down and people were being evacuated from the area.
New York City was on lock down for the next two days and the couple watched the television coverage of 9/11, wishing they could help in some way. Because Fabrizio was an ironworker in his youth and knew how to handle torches, he had a feeling they might be able to help the search and rescue team.
The couple bought two hard hats and made their way down to Ground Zero on September 13 and 14, 2001. After Fabrizio showed the rescue team his union card, they joined what Fabrizio called “the bucket brigade. We moved rubble by hand in search of any survivors.”
Fabrizio said, “Because Lisa escaped death, she felt compelled to do what she could do to save others. We worked from 11 a.m. on September 13 until 2 a.m.”
Fabrizio was not prepared for the devastation he witnessed. His first impression was “it looked like something out of the Planet of the Apes.” Standing on the top of the pile of rubble, Fabrizio said, “It was worse than Dante’s Inferno.”
“Lisa was one of the very few females helping in the search effort,” he said with pride. “Lisa is a tenacious individual who only runs on two speeds: on and off.”
When the fire workers asked her if she would mind going down a dark shaft to give water to the exhausted rescue team, she did not hesitate for a second.
Fabrizio said, “We could feel the pile of rubble shifting every once in a while and conditions were anything but safe, but I was unable to dissuade her.”
Fabrizio vividly remembers that on 9/13, three people were found alive. He believes these were the last three people to be rescued.
He said, “We were all just cheering. It gave us hope. The survivors were protected by a container around them that appeared to be the bottom of a staircase.”
The couple returned to Ground Zero on September 14, 2001 after a few hours of sleep.
Fabrizio said, “We tried to save as many people as we could.”
The search was called off that day.
By 2018, Fabrizio developed an enlarged prostate and consulted with Dr. Gennaro Falco of Bassett Healthcare Network. He learned that “I came down with prostate cancer. I feel very lucky that the cancer was caught at pre-Stage 1.”
There is no doubt in his mind that this cancer is related to the toxic chemicals he was exposed to during the search and rescue attempt.
Fabrizio, a graduate of SUNY Oneonta, hopes that by telling his story, people are reminded to stand up for what they believe.
The message he wants to send to terrorists is that “New Yorkers are tenacious as hell.”