HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - A former first responder who survived 9/11 in New York City is marking the 20th anniversary of the tragedy with a touching tribute outside of his Hollywood home.
The display outside Shaya Gutleizer’s home may not be the most extravagant Sept. 11 memorial, but it is deeply personal.
Inside his residence and with his family by his side, the retired firefighter, 40, reflected on the day that changed his life two decades ago.
“I was 20. It feels like yesterday, though it feels like 100 years ago at the same time,” he said.
Gutleizer was a young emergency medical technician at the time. He said he had the day off when word went out that one of the World Trade Center towers was being evacuated.
He chose to respond to the scene.
“It’s a mass casualty incident the likes that you’d never think you’d see,” he said.
Gutleizer said he was at a safe distance when the South Tower fell, but he was right below the North Tower moments before it collapsed.
“I will be the first to admit, I wasn’t prepared for what came next, for what I saw,” he said. “We understood the dangers, but seeing people leaping from the towers was, I think, the scariest and most messed up, for lack of a better word, thing that I’ve ever seen.”
The retired EMT described his next steps.
“The second tower started coming down. We ran like hell, and at some point, I ducked into a storefront. I remember the big gray cloud just enveloping everything,” he said.
Like so many first responders, Gutleizer spent more than a week at ground zero, helping any way he could.
“It was what they call the bucket brigade. They were kind of just passing buckets down of rubble,” he said.
Gutleizer still has the red “World Trade Center Emergency” badge that allowed him access to the site, as well as his mask and two helmets.
“This one had fallen when I was running from the tower,” he said as he held up a blue helmet.
Gutleizer said he joined the Army because of the 9/11 attacks, but his service was cut short by lung problems.
“I had friends dying of cancer, friends that have died of cancer,” he said.
Gutleizer retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2017, and his family moved to South Florida.
He decided the outside of their home would make for a respectful tribute to the fallen on this 20th anniversary.
“This is Home Depot, this was trying to figure it out,” he said.
The display includes painted towers made of wood, connected by the Flag of Honor, with the names of the victims.
Gutleizer placed 412 small flags in the yard, one for every first responder lost.
He hopes his somber display sparks curiosity from a new generation.
“A lot of them are going to walk by, they’re going to see it, and they’re going to want to know about it and ask questions,” he said.
In 2016, Gutleizer’s service as a first responder was honored in Congress, not only for his time at ground zero, but also for his efforts to renew the federal law providing health benefits to those who got sick in the years after 9/11.
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