The Andruzzis grew up the best kind of brothers, four boys wedged into two small bedrooms in their Staten Island home, loving and fighting, best friends and worst enemies. They spent long Saturday afternoons at the Little League field and Sundays at home, eating their mother's ritual macaroni and meatballs. They handed down paper routes and school clothes through four mini-generations. They were the sons of a New York City cop who sometimes worked three jobs at once to keep them all in parochial school, and their neighborhood was filled with the children of policemen and firefighters. Fathers were sometimes hurt or lost in the line of duty; that was part of life. Many sons would follow the same path.
Three of the Andruzzi boys became New York City firemen. Jimmy, 30, was first, graduating from the academy in October 1995. Billy, the oldest, at 32, first worked as a case manager for the New York City welfare department, but when he saw how much Jimmy loved his job, he joined the firefighting ranks in the summer of '99. The baby, Marc, 24, finished eight weeks of academy training in early September and is a "probie," beginning the probationary period that precedes graduation. "Their father was a cop, and now three sons are in the fire department," says their mother, Mary Ann, with a look of pride in her eyes. "My boys love to help people."
Joe, 26, would be the odd one. He kept growing long after his 200-pound brothers stopped, played football as an offensive lineman at Southern Connecticut State and clawed his way into the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 1997, making the roster of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. Despite three knee surgeries, he is the starting right guard for the New England Patriots, a 6'3", 315-pound contradiction of weekday calm and Sunday mayhem. "If I didn't play football, I would be teaching special education," says Joe. "I'm the black sheep, I guess. I wouldn't be a firefighter."
Still, he admires his brothers as much as they do him. "What's important is that my brothers are happy in what they do, and I know they are," says Joe. "A lot of people hate their jobs. I know my brothers are excited when they go to work. I'm excited when I get up on Sunday morning and know I've got a game to play. And I know they're excited when they go into a building to put out a fire." Nonetheless, he fights guilt over the opulence made possible by his profession. "I see them driving old cars, scrounging for second jobs," says Joe of his siblings. "The wage difference, it doesn't feel right for what they do."
Joe was in a dentist's chair on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, when he heard a radio report of a fire at the World Trade Center. He rushed back to his house in North Attleboro, Mass., with his wife, Jen, and their children, Hunter, 3, and Breanna, 17 months, and they watched coverage of the attacks. Both towers were still standing but soon would fall. Joe knew that Jimmy was stationed in lower Manhattan (Engine 5, on East 14th Street). "I was thinking Jimmy could be in the middle of all that," says Joe. "I knew he had to be close. My heart was in my throat." Five hours passed before Joe learned that his brothers were all safe and that Jimmy had, indeed, been terrifyingly close to death.
On the day after the disaster, Joe sleepwalked through meetings and practice in preparation for a game at Carolina that he hoped would not take place. "I was there, but not really there," he says. When the NFL announced the next day that its games were canceled, Joe drove to Staten Island. Late last Friday afternoon he was sitting in the living room of his parents' modest split-level house when Jimmy walked through the door and stopped at the entrance to the room. He raised his right hand and held his thumb and index finger less than an inch apart, wordlessly demonstrating the margin of his survival as his lip trembled and his eyes watered. Both men began to cry, and they embraced in the center of the room, sobbing for longer than either could ever remember.
On the morning of the attack, Jimmy was scheduled to work a nine-to-six shift, but firefighters all know that means showing up at eight. Just after 8:30 Jimmy and his squad were called to a smoky apartment on East 19th Street. Food left on a stove. They put out the fire and, as they climbed back onto the truck, heard a jet screaming overheard. Awfully low, they said to one another. Seconds later, the engine radio sounded. Engine 10, Ladder 10, a plane has hit Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. Engine 10 is in the shadow of the twin towers; firefighters from that company saw the first plane hit. Engine 5, fresh from the kitchen fire, was not far away. Within minutes the two companies were at the base of Tower 1, the first building that was struck.
Five days later Jimmy Andruzzi sat on a couch in his parents' living room, unshaven, wearing denim shorts and a white T-shirt. His brothers, Joe and Billy, sat nearby. Their father, Bill, 13 years retired from the police force, was on his way home from his sales job. Their mother was in the kitchen, making the Sunday macaroni and meatballs, seeking blessed routine even as a newspaper lay open on a table showing pictures of dozens of the missing, many of them friends of the Andruzzis.
In a soft voice Jimmy described the events of Sept. 11.
'We're on the rig, and we look up and see the first tower burning, and my buddy, Derek Brogan, says to me, "We're going to the biggest disaster in the history of New York City." Once we're there, we're thinking about the protocol for a high-rise: command post in the lobby, another command post three floors below the fire. They told us the bottom of the fire was on the 79th floor. We're in the lobby when we hear another huge explosion. I figured out later that was the second plane hitting. I'm thinking, When we practice terrorist scenarios, they always tell us, "First responders will be casualties." The building is shaking, and nobody wants to go up now. They tell us, "Engine 5, go with Engine 10 to 79. Put that fire out." So we go up the stairs, me and Derek and Manny Delvalle and Gerard Gorman and Eddie Mecner and Lieutenant Bob Bohak. That's what we do. We put out fires.