Orlando Martinez, EMT, FDNY EMS, was one block away from the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. After he and his partner, Frank Puma, transported a patient who’d been critically injured by part of a plane’s landing gear to NYU Downtown Hospital, he called his girlfriend, Maddalena Passarella, and told her a plane had hit the World Trade Center.
“I told her I was OK and that I had to go back in to help more injured people,” says Martinez. “She told me to be safe and call her as soon as I could.”
She went into the living room, turned on the TV and saw what all of America had been seeing. About an hour later, the towers collapsed. She panicked, not knowing whether Martinez was dead or alive. Five hours later, he called to let her know he was alive, although very shaken up. When he arrived home about 10 p.m., Maddalena wouldn’t let him leave her sight.
The following day, Martinez’s brothers came over and drove him and Maddalena to his parents’ house in Brooklyn. His whole family—including his pregnant sister who drove four hours from Pennsylvania—wanted to see him. Toward the end of the night, Orlando gathered everyone in his parents’ living room and thanked them for their love and support. “I reached into my pocket and pulled out a black jewelry box, approached my girlfriend, got down on one knee and opened the box. I handed her a diamond ring and asked for her hand in marriage in front of the whole family,” says Martinez. “After she flooded the floor with crying, she finally said, ‘Yes.’”
“Life is too short,” says Martinez, who had the ring for three months prior to the terrorist attacks. “If I had perished in the Trade Center, my biggest regret would be not having told Maddalena how much I love her and letting her know that I was planning to spend the rest of my life with her.”
Their wedding bells will ring this October.