Steve Buscemi is known for portraying mysterious men, gangsters and bad guys in Hollywood — but 16 years ago, on September 11, he played a very different role.
The Brooklyn-born actor used his background as a real-life New York City firefighter to rescue 9/11 survivors from the rubble of the World Trade Center.
From 1980 to 1985, Buscemi worked in downtown Manhattan’s Engine Company 55, a few blocks from the disaster, and he rejoined his former comrades amid the wreckage on the day of the attacks.
“He put in 60 hours on top of the pile, pulling out victims,” retired NYFD battalion chief Richard Ardisson, who was at the site with the actor, told PEOPLE in Oct. 2001. “Not delivering coffee or giving moral support. He was exhausted and covered in soot.
“He said he wanted no recognition. He said, ‘These are my brothers.’ “
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“It was a privilege to be able to do it. It was great to connect with the firehouse I used to work with and with some of the guys I worked alongside,” he said. “And it was enormously helpful for me because while I was working, I didn’t really think about it as much, feel it as much.”
Hardly anyone knows about Buscemi’s heroic actions, because he declined most interviews at the time.
But the Brotherhood of Fire Facebook page posted a photo of him in 2013, with the caption:
“Do you recognize this man? Do you know his name? Lots of people know he’s an actor, and that his name is Steve Buscemi. What very few people realize is that he was once one of New York’s Bravest.
“In 1976 Steve Buscemi took the FDNY civil service test when he was just 18 years old. In 1980 Steve Buscemi became a New York City Firefighters. For four years, Buscemi served on one of FDNY’s busiest, Engine Co. 55 in Manhattan’s Little Italy. He later left the fire service to become a successful actor, writer and director.
“After 9/11/2001… Brother Buscemi returned to FDNY Engine 55.
“On September 12, 2001 and for several days following Brother Steve worked 12-hour shifts alongside other firefighters digging and sifting through the rubble from the World Trade Center looking for survivors.
“Very few photographs and no interviews exist because he declined them. He wasn’t there for the publicity.”
According to Business Insider, Buscemi still serves on the Board of Advisors for Friends of Firefighters, an organization dedicated to New York firefighters and their families.