Many know the actor Steve Buscemi for his countless roles in film and television throughout the years. Whether it’s Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs or Nucky in Boardwalk Empire, you know what he looks like.
But what seems to be a surprising fact about the 63-year-old New York native is that he used to be a firefighter. More than that, he was a volunteer firefighter at the time the horrifying 9/11 attacks devastated New York City.
Back in the 1980s, long before any acting role, Buscemi was a part of Manhattan’s Engine 55 in the Little Italy section of New York. After September 11, 2001, he took it upon himself to go down to his old station to lend a helping hand.
On the podcast WTF with Marc Maron, Buscemi opened up about what it was like to be at Ground Zero and how the tragic day has affected him until now.
“I was driven into the site that day, walked around for hours, and then found my company, found Engine 55, working there and asked them if I could join them,” the actor said. “It was just so devastating.”
He went on to talk about how the dusty conditions in the area probably contributed to a number of long-term health risks that first responders and victims have suffered from over the years. Since 9/11, cases of respiratory illness, cancers, and other ailments have been linked to the event.
“You could just feel it, like that it was not safe,” Buscemi said. “And you would hear people say, ‘You know, I’ll bet we’re going to die from this in 20 years.'”
He worked at the site for five days, a time period that seems short in passing but had dire effects in the long run. While his physical health seemed to hold up, Buscemi said that the experience took a mental toll on him.
“I was only there for like five days, but when I stopped going and sort of tried to just live my life again, it was really, really hard,” he shared. “I was depressed. I was anxious. I couldn’t make a simple decision.”
Since the fateful day, Buscemi has dedicated himself to honoring the first responders who were present after the attacks. He’s worked with the charity Friends of Firefighters and has taken part in several projects about the 9/11 events, such as A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY and Dust: The Lingering Legacy of 9/11.
Though he noted that he’d never forget what he experienced on the ground. “So many people who were in New York at that time wanted to help,” Buscemi remarked. “I was privileged enough to have access to the site and to be in the thick of it and to just experience the humanity of what was going on there.”