Memories of Sept. 11, 2001 haunt Dominick Roselli. He was a civilian firefighter at a naval air base in Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the World Trade Center was attacked. Roselli was performing an annual pump test on an engine when he got his orders to report to Ground Zero.
His job was to comb through the rubble and look for survivors. He didn’t find any.
Two decades later, he’s still struggling to process what he observed in the days that followed the attacks.
“I responded on 9/11, and I did what I had to do, and I live with it every day,” he said. “I get really depressed in August, and it doesn’t end until the middle of October.”
Roselli was one of three Sept. 11 first responders honored at a meeting of the London Bridge Rotary Club on Wednesday. The club also honored retired New York City Firefighter Tom Fenech and Walt Lietz, a Havasu mortician who helped process and identify bodies at the site of the fallen towers. The meeting served as an introduction to the Havasu Freedom Foundation’s plans to honor first responders in the newest stretch of the Havasu Memorial Walkway near the London Bridge. A ceremony is planned for January.
Health complications related to Roselli’s 11 days at Ground Zero forced him to retire early. Seeking a better climate and new surroundings, he moved his family to Lake Havasu City in 2018. However, he’s found it difficult to escape the ghosts of the past. Roselli encouraged the group to help raise awareness about the mental health needs of first responders.
“The subject of mental health for first responders, in my opinion, isn’t addressed well enough,” he said. “There’s so much burnout in our profession between firefighters, EMTs and police officers. … In a 20-year career, your average professional will see 100 times the trauma that you would see in your lifetime, and it takes a toll on people.”
Roselli, who recently moved from Havasu to Bullhead City, told the club he’s sought mental health treatment three times in the last year. “This year alone I knew six guys who committed suicide who had gone through the treatment facility where I was at,” he said. “I knew them personally. It’s a real problem. … A lot of guys I know who are still in their careers are afraid to seek help because they feel it will hurt their careers, and people are dying because they don’t want to have the stigma.”
For Fenech, the memories of Sept. 11 are also painful, but he’s drawn comfort from the brotherhood of people who responded to the attacks. As a firefighter, he was among the first on scene at the site of the North Tower collapse. He said he was amazed by the number of regular citizens who showed up at the site wanting to help firefighters in any way they could.
“The volunteers who showed up at 4 a.m. the next day, and the next day, and the next day – we’re not talking about 10 or 15 people, we’re talking about hundreds of people; thousands over a period of weeks,” he said. “These are people who were sitting at home, watching 24 hours of CNN, watching the collapse happen over and over again.”
Fenech helped them get past the perimeter. “They came there for a reason. They came there to help. You hadn’t seen anything like that since World War II, when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Everybody pitched in.”
The connections and memories he made during those days served to define the next years of his life. He said he’s kept up with some of the people who he helped, and many have gone on to live inspiring lives. “There were many nurses, cops, firemen and military personnel who were inspired by me taking the time, and showing them a little of 9/11. … The American spirit, that’s something we will always have. Today we have a religion called politics that is taking over. Everybody has an opinion and they don’t want to hear anything else, but as a country, as a whole, we need to stay together in case something like this happens again.”