Belfast Telegraph

I thought 'why did God save my life on 9/11?' Counselling made me realise I was blessed

With Northern Ireland hosting the World Police and Fire Games, Amanda Poole caught up with 9/11 hero Louie Cacchioli who is here with the WPFG Federation checking out our sports facilities

By Amanda Poole

Louie Cacchioli is a true hero. From April 1982 he was a firefighter with New York’s Engine Company 47 and fought some of the worst fires in the city’s history.

But it was the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 that were to change his life forever.

When the World Trade Center was targeted by al-Qaida, the married father-of-three, now 61, was part of a rescue team that responded to the disaster in the North Tower.

The Italian-born New Yorker was separated from his colleagues and single-handedly saved the lives of around 40 civilians by leading them down a stairwell to safety.

He narrowly escaped death when the North Tower collapsed, but 343 of his “brother firefighters” lost their lives.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Louie Cacchioli rebuilt his shattered life and is now involved in a 9/11 survivors group, as well as giving tours of Ground Zero.

“At the time I didn’t want to live any more,” Louie said.

“I thought, ‘why did God save me?’ and I had a lot of unanswered questions.

“I didn’t think I needed to go to counselling, but I did. I now believe in counselling 110%. It saved my life.

“9/11 changed my life forever and it’s pretty hard to deal with every day, but I’m one of the lucky ones.

“A lot of people lost their brothers, mums, sons and dads, so I’m blessed. I’m still here.

“I have my three beautiful grandchildren, my children and my wife of 36 years, Jacqueline.”

Louie is in Northern Ireland as part of the World Police and Fire Games Federation, which is checking out 35 venues for next year’s games, after our successful bid to host the event.

The 2013 games, taking place from August 1-10, will see more than 10,000 competitors take part in everything from golf and football to wrist wrestling and surfing. It is expected to attract more than 25,000 visitors from over 70 countries and boost the Northern Ireland economy by £15m.

“At the games we compete among each other and at the end of the day we go to the bar and have a beer,” Louie said. “Everybody feels up and the atmosphere is great.

“It’s great for families to come and see and I know Belfast has been through a lot, so this is a positive thing for people to enjoy.

“After 9/11, the devastation was felt around the world and you guys were great supporting us.

“I’m honoured to come here and represent the 343 brother firefighters that we lost that day.

“For me, it’s like a therapy to heal my wounds.”

Louie is thoroughly enjoying his first visit to our shores and said he will be telling everyone in New York about how great Northern Ireland is.

“From the time I got off the plane, I felt at home,” he said.

“Everyone is so friendly. I’m very impressed.

“If 10 or so years ago you had told me you’re going to Belfast, I would have said, ‘are you kidding me?’

“Now, I can’t wait to go back and tell all my friends, ‘you know what? It’s great, it’s beautiful’.”

Factfile

  • The World Police and Fire Games (WPFG) is an biennial athletic event open to active and retired law enforcement officers and fire personnel.
  • The California Police Olympics were first held in 1967 and led to the creation of the WPFG Federation.
  • In 1985, the first WPFG was held in San Jose, California.
  • Olympian Dame Mary |Peters was a member of the bid team which secured the games for Northern Ireland.
  • The largest WPFG was in 2011 in New York, with 16,000 athletes from 59 nations.

For more information visit www.2013wpfg.com

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