Jim Tucciarelli, the longtime president of Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320 of District Council 37, retired this past summer after 42 years of city service but has continued living up to DC 37’s motto proclaiming those it represents as “Everyday Heroes” by saving two people trapped in a burning car Nov. 23 on Staten Island.
As he told WABC-TV, he was driving home that night when he saw the car in flames and heard a woman in the passenger seat crying for help. The 67-year-old Mr. Tucciarelli approached the car. When the woman said she couldn’t move her leg, he replied, “It may hurt but I’ll move it for you,” and was able to extricate her and carry her away from the vehicle.
He then returned to the vehicle, where the woman’s boyfriend was unconscious behind the wheel.
“I was able to reach in and unbuckle the seatbelt,” he told “Eyewitness News. “But at that point, flames were coming through the floorboard, and the vehicle started to fill up with dark smoke. I was starting to choke; I couldn’t breathe, and I had to get out of the vehicle.”
Fortunately, at that point, a police officer arrived at the scene and was able to rescue the driver.
The woman and her boyfriend were taken to the hospital, as was Mr. Tucciarelli. From his bed there, he told the WABC-TV interviewer that he hoped to be released in time for Thanksgiving, explaining, “I got a lot to be thankful for this year, and I want to spend it with my family. The Good Lord gave me this time on this earth, and if I can help somebody with whatever time I have left, I would not hesitate at all.”
We spoke with him by phone Nov. 26, after he’d been discharged from the hospital. He brushed off credit for his rescue efforts, saying, “I’m not a hero; just being a human being.”
It was not the first time that Mr. Tucciarelli, who during his union career was an activist within DC 37 and its parent union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, put himself in harm’s way in perilous circumstances. The union’s headquarters is just northwest of the World Trade Center site, and he spent extensive time at Ground Zero in the weeks after 9/11 assisting in the search for possible survivors trapped in the rubble.
In a video released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, he said, “The adrenaline level, you didn’t know if you were working 12, 14, 16, 24 hours straight…To this day, I still wear a bracelet [for] five of my friends that they haven’t found yet.” His search efforts exposed him to the deadly toxins that permeated the site—he told us he is undergoing treatment for leukemia—and he became a strong advocate for fellow 9/11 responders on issues like having their health care covered.
A proclamation AFSCME President Lee Saunders presented to Mr. Tucciarelli in July stated, “Your dedication to the members of this union and to public service is an example and inspiration to us all.”
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After we noted in last week’s issue that among those Mike Bloomberg still hadn’t apologized to was United Federation of Teachers President Mike Mulgrew for refusing to negotiate an equitable contract during his final 50 months as Mayor, the union leader sent us a statement saying, “By the time Bloomberg left office, the public understood that his educational policies—closing schools and diverting public funds to the charter sector—had not just failed, but like stop-and-frisk were damaging and counterproductive.”
He continued, “Our national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, will make a presidential endorsement, and Bloomberg is entitled to take part in the AFT process. But the union’s endorsement will not be based on who has the biggest checkbook.”
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