On a perfect late-summer morning, New York firefighter Salvatore Torcivia declined an overtime shift so that he could accompany his 3-year-old daughter, Mariah, to her first day of preschool at a YMCA near their Staten Island home. Not long after they arrived, a thick plume of dark smoke rose over the city. It was September 11, 2001.
Mariah Torcivia ’20, M.S. ’21, was too young at the time, so the ensuing details have been relayed to her by her mother and father over the years: How Salvatore rushed to reach the fallen towers, navigating his way through the frightened crowds who were streaming away from the devastation. How he was gone for days, sifting through the ruins for victims, and returned home covered in the ash that haunted Ground Zero.
And how the firefighter who eventually had accepted the overtime assignment was killed in the buildings’ collapse — as was every man and woman who’d reported for work at his firehouse that morning.
What Salvatore Torcivia saw in those days among the smoldering wreckage, he has never told Mariah. She expects he never will.
“My father says he feels like it was just yesterday, but in other ways like it was a lifetime ago,” she says.
Salvatore has celebrated Mariah earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at Clark and will be cheering her on as she pursues a career in genetic counseling. She says he has never failed to live up to the sentiment expressed on a t-shirt she once owned, which said, “My Father. My Hero.”
Each September 11, Salvatore, now retired, heads into the city to attend memorial services. This year will be no exception.
“I think about 9/11 throughout the year, not just at this time,” Mariah says. “My friends are more removed from it, so it doesn’t hit them the same way it hits me.
“I just feel lucky to have my father.”