For NY firefighter, 9/11 is time to both mourn and celebrate

The date September 11 will forever remain a somber reminder of unspeakable tragedy. But for New York firefighter John Morabito, who survived the collapse of the World Trade Center, it’s also a day to celebrate living.

“It’s an opportunity to rejoice. To be able to be here,” he said Wednesday on TODAY. “Everyday things. You get a parking ticket. Babies are crying. Hurricane Sandy. I get to experience it.”

Morabito and his colleagues at “Ten House,” the only New York fire station inside Ground Zero, were among the first rescue workers to respond to the Twin Towers 12 years ago today. The station lost six firefighters that day, and Morabito said he continues to suffer from survivor’s guilt and wonder "why I didn't die with the rest of the firefighters" he worked with that day inside the World Trade Center.

“When I hear Taps, when I hear the drums, it brings back bad memories, but at the same time it makes me feel happy to be here, to be alive,” he said.

Morabito reflects on his memories of that historic day in a new Discovery Channel special, “9/11 Firehouse,” which shares the sorrow and sacrifice experienced by the Ten House family. In the special, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m., ET on Discovery, firefighter Joe Torrillo recalls watching the second hijacked plane slam into the South Tower.

“It’s obvious that's everybody is going to die above that point of impact. So for the first time in your career, you don't even make an effort to try to save somebody,” Torrillo says in the documentary.

On TODAY, Morabito spoke to the anchors minutes after the White House led the nation in a moment of silence. “It’s an extremely powerful feeling to know that everyone’s thinking about you," he said. "Everyone’s thoughts today are on firefighters and the rescue workers and what we went through in New York City.”

Morabito said that while it has been easy for him to recount his memories, he understands why other rescue workers have been reluctant to do the same. He said his own brother, a fellow firefighter, only recently spoke up about that day, while vowing at the time that he wouldn't do it again.

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Firefighters from FDNY’s ‘Ten House’ recall 9/11

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"Firefighters, we’re brave. We have something to protect, and we don’t wear our emotions on our sleeves, so it’s hard for them to speak about what happened that day,” he said.

Morabito originally thought he had lost his brother in the tragedy, after seeing his name on a list of fallen comrades. He decided to go back into the Trade Center rubble to search. “Even if he was killed, I needed to find him,” he said. 

But during a break, as Morabito was taking a sip of water from a fire hydrant, his brother walked up to him.

“With all of that going on, and the Trade Center, and everything everywhere, for him to walk in front of me at the same place at the same time, it wasn’t a coincidence. He was put there,” Morabito said.

"9/11Firehouse" is hosted by TODAY’s Willie Geist, who on Wednesday discussed the bravery of the rescue workers that day when the sky literally fell on them.

“They ran in when everyone else was running out,” he said. “And that is real honest-to-goodness superheroism.”