Families, colleagues remember heroic nurses who lost their lives Sept. 11 in the line of duty
A group gathers at an observation platform at St. Paul’s Chapel at Broadway and Vesey in New York City to view the site where the twin towers once stood. All that is left is twisted steel and construction equipment.
Months after the atrocities of Sept. 11, the number of nurses who perished and their stories are still coming to light. At least 10 nurses died that day, either as emergency services workers, World Trade Center employees or airline passengers. Four were full-time firefighters.
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Capt. Kathy Mazza–a former operating room nurse-had been a commandant of the police academy for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for nearly a year. In her new job, she oversaw everything from biannual pistol qualifications to rescue and firefighter training for 60 to 70 Port Authority recruits.
She was the first woman to hold the post, and it required a certain toughness of her, her co-workers said. She was the kind of person who, once she believed in something, would make things go her way.
“She put on a very tough exterior,” Officer Eugene Fasano remembers, “but she was good-hearted on the inside.”
Mazza liked wine, her colleagues said. She liked to fish. She would always ask people what they were cooking. Her husband, Christopher Delosh, was an officer with the New York City Police Department.
Mazza joined the Port Authority in 1987 after working for 10 years as an operating room nurse at Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens and at St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, Long Island. Her background was valuable in her new role-it helped her to win an award aslife-support provider of the year
She also helped spearhead an effort to train more than 600 officers in the use of defibrillators in Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports and other Port Authority facilities. This effort eventually saved about 16 people, Fasano said. It was Mazza’s dogged efforts that made it happen, he said.
Fasano last saw Mazza alive Sept. 11.
When she and her co-workers heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, they were at the police academy on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, about 10 minutes away from the twin towers via the Holland Tunnel. They ran out and jumped in their cars. They quickly sensed that the situation was bigger than just a plane crash.
“We thought it was a little plane,” Fasano said. “We never thought it was an airliner. We thought we would be there all day and then we’d walk out. Then, I saw smoke from both buildings. Something wasn’t right. It didn’t click.”
Soon, they heard the news on the radio about the second plane. Like many people who work in emergency services, they were driving right into the thick of it, as if by reflex.
Mazza’s team arrived at the Barclay Street side of the building near a loading dock and began to rush up a ramp to the mezzanine level where the towers still stood. Fasano, at Mazza’s request, went back to retrieve a medical kit out of her car after the group learned a man with a broken leg was on the ramp.
That order saved his life. Mazza and her co-workers went ahead and entered the building. Fasano never saw her again.
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Ronald Bucca, 47, New York City fire marshal, was a licensed practical nurse who worked out of Manhattan. A 22-year-veteran, he had received five citations for valor, a FDNY spokesperson said. He was nicknamed the “Flying Fireman” for surviving a five-story fall trying to rescue another firefighter. Those injuries had kept him in recovery for a year.
Bucca also had been a Green Beret and military intelligence specialist. His service included two years of duty in the paratroopers with the Screaming Eagles, 101st Airborne Division.
On Sept. 11, he became the first New York City fire marshal to be killed in the line of duty.
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Lt. Geoffrey Guja worked as part of the New York Fire Department’s 43rd Battalion as a floater between different stations.
On the day of the attacks, Guja was working light duty at the promotions desk in Brooklyn after injuring himself at another fire, his wife, Debbie, said. He did not have to respond to a call.
But when he saw the first plane hit the tower from across the water in Brooklyn, he responded anyway, hopping in a subway car with another lieutenant and dressing up in somebody else’s gear at a firehouse in lower Manhattan.
“Everybody had to communicate back and forth with upper authorities,” his wife said. “But he didn’t have anybody to respond to. He just went over. A lot of guys just went over. It’s their nature.”
Guja had been a nurse for about four years, working on a per diem basis at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Centre. Big, burly and loud, Guja didn’t look the part of a nurse. He occasionally even poked fun at his image, Debbie said, like the time he stitched half a nurse’s uniform to half a fireman’s uniform for Halloween-even shaving off half his mustache. In a way, though, it was a part of his life he kept to himself.
“He kept that very private,” Debbie said. “It was as if he had a different life I never knew about.”
During his funeral, however, a large number of people from the hospital turned out, even housekeeping staff and security guards, she said.
Guja was always the life of the party, a man given to putting on a chicken costume at parties (embarrassing his stepdaughter, for instance, at her sweet 16 fete).
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Michael Mullan, a firefighter/nurse from Queens, worked at the fire department in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.
Mullan “was a Type A personality without a doubt,” said Capt. Robert Norcross of Ladder 12, Engine Co. 3. “For a single guy, he was very busy. He did nursing, he was in the Army Reserves.”
He also attended Hunter College, where he was working on his advanced nursing degree, Norcross said.
Mullan was an accomplished piano player, Norcross said, and could pound out Jerry Lee Lewis tunes wherever they could find a piano.
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Greg Buck earned his nursing degree in 1995, but never practiced, his wife said. He had just finished his education when the fire department recruited him. It was in nursing school that he met Katherine, whom he married in 2000.
“It was funny because no matter what area of nursing we studied, he wanted to do that,” she said. “When we did maternity, he wanted to be a maternity nurse … In my mind, he was one of the most empathetic people I’ve ever met.”
Buck had an RN’s sense and was always calm in an emergency situation, his wife said. “We went through nursing school together. What I would sweat over was easy for him.”
His firefighter colleagues called him “The Quiet Man.” He was unflappable but also had a penchant for practical jokes, said his captain, Luke Lynch. Buck was also a carpenter and had run a woodworking business with his father. He helped restore his parents’ Queen Anne house and an old hotel in Staten Island.
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Officer Sharon Miller rushed into Tower One with Capt. Kathy Mazza, after running up the ramp to the mezzanine. They climbed the stairs and made it to the 29th floor, where they helped to shepherd the occupants coming down. Before they reached the 24th floor, Tower Two came tumbling down.
“The building shook,” Miller said. “You had to hold on. The emergency lighting systems came on. I thought, ‘This one’s going to go next.’ I turned to Kathy and said, ‘I love my job, but I don’t want to die. There’s a lot of things I have to do.'”
Then, they hugged.
After Tower Two fell, all units were ordered to evacuate Tower One. Officer David Lim of the Port Authority said he was the last to see Mazza alive. She and Lt. Robert D. Cirri were were trying to help a large woman down the stairs by tying her to a rescue chair.
That having failed, they carried her in the chair, calling back to Lim to hurry. They made it into the lobby just as the building collapsed.
The New York Times reported that Feb. 9, rescue workers found five Port Authority police officers’ bodies 60 feet below ground-indicating the tremendous force of the collapse-along with the body of the woman still tied to the rescue chair. The officers were Mazza, Cirri, Chief James Romito and officers James Parham and Steve Huczko, another Port Authority officer and registered nurse, who worked at Newark Airport.
Miraculously, at the time of the collapse, Lim was still on the fourth floor in the stairwell, protected from the thunderous crash of the tower. His life was spared.
After a day of heroic acts, a civilian reported another- one most likely performed by Mazza.
The unidentified civilian reported being saved by a female captain, who was shooting out windows with her handgun to create escape routes in the Trade Center lobby so that people could get out after bottlenecks formed.
Fasano said it was probably Mazza. The New York Times confirmed that report Feb. 11. “She was the only female captain who would have been in the building,” Fasano said.