Up until his tragic and sudden death on Dec. 4, Tommy Orlando was a New York City firefighter. In this capacity he put his life on the line daily, but never more so than on September 11, 2001. On that day he raced up the staircases of the World Trade Center and saved the lives of countless people. Despite knowing full well the risks he faced, he only abandoned his rescue efforts when superiors ordered him out of the building, just prior to its collapse.
On Feb. 27, 2007, Elmont High School girl's basketball coach Gregg Petrocelli collapsed on the sideline during a game against Hicksville High School. Tommy's daughter Meghan played for the Hicksville team. Without hesitation, Tommy leapt from his seat and rushed to the fallen coach's side. Tommy used his EMT skills in a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful attempt to save the coach's life.
Tommy was a longtime coach and board member of Holy Family CYO. He was also CYO's handyman. Tommy could often be found in Holy Family's gym changing light bulbs, repairing scoreboards or installing safety padding. Tommy's commitment and dedication to the children of Holy Family CYO were unmatched.
The ubiquitous Tommy O. also coached baseball, soccer and lacrosse in Hicksville. A father of a boy Tommy coached in baseball emailed me after his death. He wrote, "Tom was a man to whom our children gravitated, with his warmth, humor and compassion. The positive impact he had on my son was profound and everlasting." Tommy had that impact on so many of us.
His brother firefighters from Engine Company 65 referred to Tommy as "the mayor of 43rd Street." At home his neighbors referred to Tommy as the "mayor of 6th street." The title of "mayor" was bestowed upon Tommy because of his concern for and eagerness to help those he came in contact with.
Someone once wrote, "By hero, we tend to mean a heightened man who, more than other men, possesses qualities of courage, loyalty, resourcefulness, charisma, and above all, selflessness. He is an example of right behavior, the sort of man who risks his life to protect society's values, sacrificing his personal needs for those of the community." By this or any or standard Tommy was a hero.
Newsday Blog Entry - by Tony Russo (Division Ave High School - Class of '81)
It's been almost 30 years, since we've spoken, but I want to thank you for an amazing tribute for a great guy, and even better human being. It's been a week and a half since I received "that call" from Pat Carew, and I am, like I'm sure like so many of us are, saying, "it just doesn't make sense, and isn't right."
I've spent that time trying to reconcile the loss, and have tried to describe Tommy, what he meant to me, and who he was, to friends of mine, that did not have the good fortune to have ever met him, but have heard a few of my stories about the fun we had years ago. I've reached this conclusion: They say that unless you've visited the Grand Canyon, no pictures descriptions, or experiences through the eyes of another can capture the sheer beauty and enormity of it. Was Tommy O any different? I don't think so, as to really understand him, you had to experience him..... He was, and remains, that special person that perhaps you meet only once in your lifetime, (if you are fortunate).
I saw the anguish Nancy and his family were experiencing, the shock on Meghan and Thomas' faces, and thought again, "How does this make sense?" No matter how we try to grasp it, it just doesn't...
I now ask what examples has Tommy set and what would he want us to do moving forward. His loss remains incomprehensible, and indescribable, but I think he'd pass on a few thoughts:
- His unbridled passion for life was boundless, he'd say, "Live each day as it it was to be your last"
- His warm smile would tell us, "Pick up the phone or look up an email address and reconnect with an old friend
- His unwavering devotion to his family tells us, "Hug the most important people in your life and tell them how much you love them and what they mean to you"
- His heroic exploits have shown us, "No man stands taller than when he leans over to help someone else" Help someone else today.
He set the example so many of continue to try to emulate, devoted husband, loving father, caring son, brother, and friend, humble hero, and yes, the most competitive person you'd ever meet, and one heck of an athlete..... He saw a mountain and said, "Let's climb it". We'd ask, "Why?", and you guessed right, he responded, "Because it's there, and we can......"
I regret letting so much time pass since I last spoke to Tommy in the weeks following 9/11, and will live with that regret for as long as I live, but I really believe Tommy would say to us, "No regrets... Live life to it's fullest every day"