Scott Gordon for NPR
Rose Gattuso was devastated by the losses of Sept. 11. Many of the patients at the dental office where she works died or lost loved ones in the attacks. Her house is a veritable shrine to victims.
Scott Gordon for NPR
In 2002, at the age of 49, Gattuso became a volunteer emergency medical technician.
Rosalie Gattuso has worked in one dental office or another since she was 16.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Gattuso got to work on Long Island at 9 a.m. and couldn't believe what she saw on the television in the reception area.
The terrorist attacks and the collapse of the World Trade Center were made more personal for Gattuso because of her clientele. More than half of the patients in Dr. Harvey Kaplan's office were firefighters and police officers.
Dina Barbero, a receptionist who works with Gattuso, remembers what it was like: "It was devastating for families coming here, telling us about the loved ones they lost — especially mothers coming in with children and their husband wasn't coming home. It was sad."
It grew worse as various agencies tried to identify the remains found at the site.
"I would get the phone calls asking for dental records for the fire marshals to come up and take away, so that they could identify human parts if they found any," Gattuso says.
Gattuso's home is a virtual shrine to the victims of Sept. 11. The fireplace is decorated with American flags made of Christmas lights and a variety of replicas of memorials to firefighters. But Gattuso wanted to do much more. Her route to work took her past the North Babylon Volunteer Fire Department's headquarters.
"I would look at the station and think, 'I wonder if everybody's all right in there, if there's anything I can do,'" she says.
Then Gattuso had a brainstorm. Despite her 49 years — and her role as a single mother with four children — she went up to a couple of firefighters at headquarters and asked if she could join.
"I thought they were going to laugh at me," she says, "but they said, 'OK. You have to come back on Wednesday and get an application and sign it.'"
So she did. Gattuso applied in January of 2002 and was sworn in in April of that year as an emergency medical technician. Gattuso says she had to go EMT school and pass New York State written and practical tests before being certified.
And because the department is all volunteer, Gattuso was basically working two jobs and going to school.
Gattuso's ex-fire chief, Jim Kenny, laughs when asked if Gattuso, at 49, was older than the usual volunteer firefighter recruit.
"I took her for 26 myself," he says with a laugh. "Yes, usually it's a young person's interest and whatnot. Although we have a lot of people whose kids are grown up, and they want to do something. Especially after 9/11, a lot of people wanted to donate their time and try to help."
Gattuso says she does what she does because she was unable to do anything for those who perished on Sept. 11. This job give her the chance to help people — and Gattuso feels it is the greatest thing she has ever done.