‘It was the smell of death.’ Firefighter and EMT recall moments after Twin Towers fell, 20 years later


(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – It’s not a story he repeats that often, but it’s one that’s part of everything he is.

“Hi. I am Frank Pinto Junior, retired Lieutenant from the Hackensack New Jersey fire department. I responded with my department 20 years ago to the World Trade Center, to Ground Zero.”

It’s a bit of a family business.

“I didn’t have any other plans in life except to be a fireman,” said Frank.

Frank’s dad was a fireman, his uncle was a fireman, and he was too. His job had him at Ground Zero during the days following 9/11.

“Smells you can’t explain to most people, it was the smell of death. There’s really no other way to describe it,” said Frank.

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Her hobby is completely different from the job she had 20 years ago.

“Hi, I’m Arial Pinto-Rivera and 20 years ago I was an EMT for the City of Hackensack, and I also worked as an ER tech for Hackensack medical center,” said Arial.

On 9/11, while her husband was at the fire station in Hackensack, Arial rushed to the emergency room where she worked.

She waited, and waited, for the survivors to come.

“We didn’t, we didn’t get anybody,” said Arial.

The EMT and the fireman, two first responders need by the nation during 9/11.

“All of a sudden we saw, like, there goes the building, and we saw when it collapsed,” said Arial.

Their kids, Kevin and Brendon, stayed with Grandma and watched the world change.

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“It was hard to explain to them why, but I think Kevin understood a little bit more of it because he saw it on TV,” said Frank.

What’s part of this family’s story is also a part of ours at FOX 46.

“I’m Kevin Pinto-Rivera. I’m a photojournalist at FOX 46 and Frank and Arial are my parents.”

Growing up, one of my favorite places to be at was the fire station. Everyone knew me as Frank’s kid, but 9/11 changed us as a family. It wasn’t just that day, but the days and years after.

“Dad,” said Kevin. “You haven’t mentioned this person yet. Dennis.”

“He developed a bladder type cancer, it was found to be from the World Trade Center, they have a whole list of bladder cancers,” said Frank.

Dennis is someone I knew growing up. He was one of Dad’s closest friends. Dad was right next to him, going through the rubble of 9/11.

“We were pretty close, we went over there a lot together. Which makes me scared for my own health too, ironically we lost another guy this year from a World Trade Center cancer,” said Frank.

“I was thinking about Bob, I was really thinking about Bob,” said Arial.

There’s someone Mom will never forget, her coworker of twenty years, Bob. A few days after 9/11, she found out he was one of those who was trapped in the towers when they fell.

“It was him and five other people, they were pushing a lady in a wheelchair, they were trying to get out of the stairwell and that’s where they found them,” said Arial. “But it was almost seven months (later.)”

Dad has a box of photos from the days and months after 9/11. He’s got notes, medals, and a piece of the World Trade Center that’s become a solemn symbol of our family’s history.

I don’t want them to have died in vain because of that, that’s why everyone says never forget, never forget, never forget,” said Frank.

There’s a reason why we tell stories, even when they’re personal and our own.

It’s so we can remember the people in those stories.

They often call themselves ordinary, but really they’re the heroes we won’t forget.

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