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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

For Bob's Kids

by Steven P. Velasquez
August 31, 2010 

This note was originally posted in a group of Jersey City Medical Center EMS employees.  Today, August 31 is the birthday of Robert Dominick Cirri of the Port Authority Police Department who was also a Mobile Intensive Care Paramedic here in NJ.  I offer this to Bob's family on his birthday to remind them of how loved he was/is and will continue to be.  Happy Birthday Bob!  May I look upon your countenance again some day.


Bob was one of the first Paramedics I had ever encountered. I was 18 when I got in the game and volunteered in Union City, NJ. I used to remember him as "the guy who looked like Sly Stallone." Sounds goofy but hey, it was the 80's and I don't think that was an insult. Of course Rambo XII and Rocky XXV hadn't been released yet. I guess we all need to make money right?

Bob struck me as very competent, but then again, I didn't know what a Paramedic was or what they did. What I did learn over time was that when I was in front of a really sick patient and not yet able to comprehend what was before me, the door to the house would often open up and these towering, salty Paramedic types would come in with a box full of meds, a vocabulary I didn’t understand and they’d somehow make the patient better.

Over more time and with more experience, certain medics would evoke a feeling, not just of "thank God the Paramedics are here" but "thank God THAT Paramedic is here." Bob became one of those Paramedics for me. He inspired me to want to be like him though that kind of talent remained many years and hundreds of patient encounters away.

Fast forward to 1992, I returned home after two years in South Carolina and was now a Paramedic too. Bob had moved on to Hackensack University Medical Center's MICU and continued his admirable progress with the Port Authority Police. When I worked at Clara Maass Medical Center's MICU, I'd often meet up with Bob at the Colonial Diner in Lyndhurst. It was a nice neutral point between our primaries and didn't have a half bad cup of coffee. He'd always make me laugh and always had great stories to tell. He was like a big adolescent; but hey, aren't we all?

After a few short years, I had moved into computers and technology, gotten married and was immediately the father of a four year old and a year later the father of a newborn (both girls). My responsibilities at home and my new found passion with corporate America no longer left room for being a Paramedic. I felt like I had graduated - so to speak. I now had a "big person job" with real benefits, and an income (with one job) that had replaced my multiple EMS and teaching positions. My schedule had normalized and I was able to participate with my family instead of always being on a truck. My time as a Paramedic had ended and I let my number expire.

A few years and a few jobs later (it's normal to jump jobs in high-tech. You can average approx. a 15% increase from one job to the next or at least we could in the “dot com” 90's!), I was working in the corporate H.Q. of a major national retailer managing their email systems. An old partner of mine from the MC was having his (I believe) 30th birthday party at the Lyndhurst FD firehouse. My wife and I went and who was there but one joking, smiling, sometimes insulting and quite polluted Bob Cirri.

"Bro, you still a medic?""No Bob, I work in computers. I'm making good money and have a pretty good life.""Why don't you go get your number back?""It's too much work and I really don't have the time or the desire anymore Bob."He puts his arm around my wife and says: "tell this pussy to get his number back;" and proceeds to laugh at me. She was laughing too! She immediately fell in love with Bob, but then, didn't we all?

He'd disappear across the room for a while, drink some more and returned again. "Did you get your number back yet?""No Bob, I'm good. I'm not getting my number back.""Alright pussy. C'mon go get your number back. You know you miss this shit."

To & fro we went and what Bob didn’t know was that I was seriously hurting inside. 32 years old was way too young to be a "has been" at anything. Nobody ever wants to hear from someone who "used to be a Paramedic." Like Superman without his super-powers, you're no longer sexy or interesting. You're just another civilian.

I was still active on the fire side of the world and kept an EMT card; I just couldn't fly or leap tall buildings anymore.

My career goals had always included working somewhere in NYC. I mean, that's just the coolest place one can be, not to mention it's where all the best jobs were, particularly in hi-tech. After the fear of Y2K ending life as we knew it subsided, I modified my resume and began to look for new employment -- over there, in NYC.

I landed the best job I ever had, working with a great team of people and I was so proud to have the signature of all my emails proudly display the most popular business address in the world; 1 World Trade Center, NYC, NY. I landed a job with Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. I was making more money than a person who never stepped foot in a computer class should ever make; more than an entry-level lawyer or accountant. Life was pretty good.

2000 gave way to 2001 and with that came the failing economy of that time. I was very aware of it because as an email administrator, I was the one that received the emails from the bosses saying delete the following people, managers or groups of consultants because we're cutting back. A few months later, my time came too as I took my last trip down the super elevators to the marble covered lobby. I bid farewell to the security guards that I had befriended and left the World Trade Center. Go turn in your ID's Steve. Your work is done here.

I couldn't breathe. I loved that job, that office, that lifestyle. I loved my boss particularly. Never have I worked for someone who inspired so much in me, who believed in me and expected of me. My marriage was failing at home and suddenly, it was hard to find hi-tech jobs anywhere, though anecdotally one head-hunter I was working with was trying to line up an interview with Marsh & McLennan Companies back in the WTC but on a higher floor if memory serves me correctly. I thank God now that never materialized.

Anyway, long story short, a few months passed and the unspeakable horrors of September 11th 2001 had transpired. The buildings that I once loved so much, photographed, admired and proudly took my children to, had fallen upon and consumed my friend and co-worker, my inspiration.

There were so many things left unsaid. So many things I would have told Bob if I knew back in April of 2000 that that would be the last time I'd look upon his countenance. What I thought was him just fucking with me and joking was more prophesy than jest. I still wonder today if perhaps, somehow he knew and thus planted the seed within me?

In 2004, after much struggle and having to go through the entire EMS cycle again, working BLS transport, 911, taking all my classes again (ACLS, PALS, PHTLS etc...) and facing a Paramedic manual that grew to twice the size of the one I originally learned in, without preceptors, study groups or classmates, I did it. I passed the National Registry Exam and I got my old number reinstated and was once again a Paramedic.

Today, I'm on a truck every night, have no money few assets, and very little time with my now three children who I love so much. But I'm no longer a has-been; I'm not ashamed of who I am or what I do.

I'm back Bob. I got my number back just like you said. And now with your guiding hand, I can fly and leap tall buildings again.

Your friend always,

1 6 8 8
Hackensack Medical Center MICU

Bob's co-workers from UMDNJ EMS

The flag that was retrieved from Ground Zero


  1. Steve-

    The impact you have created in the few posts including this one that I have read is incredible..I admire you so much and hope that one day I may become "that medic" like you and Bob! Beginning Sept, I'll make you proud!

  2. Thank you Patty. Your words are touching and humbling all at once. And, I don't need to wait till September. I'm proud of you already.

    Work and study your guts out and don't just pass the class, EARN that patch. Do what other greats in this field have done. Take what you see, learn and experience over these next several years and leave this field just a little better than how you found it.



  3. Nice piece, Steve. I enjoyed at two levels. First, I came to the Miracle Center as I finished paramedic school. Only a handful of people knew I was waiting for that thick envelope. Typically, I got my nat'l registry before my state, but one night when I was supposed to be driving Mc-40, they made me the medic on it. I remember EMTs pulling me aside after I had treated a pt warning me to be careful about doing that stuff. Finally, the supervisors told me to change the damned patch on my shirt. That's about the time my number came.

    Bob was one of the paramedics who broke this medic in. I remember him as a great medic the way medics were back then -- teachers as well as treaters. I remember learning a lot from him and looking forward to shifts when I got to work with him.

    And I remember the loss I felt when I learned that he died in the towers, even though I hadn't spoken to him in years.

    Thank you for a nice piece.

    By the way, I've juggled the corporate life and the medic's life to years too. Call me some time. We'll chat about that, about the medical center and about Steve.

  4. Steve this is a great work of praise to a great colleague.Bob was a great partner to work with, I foldly remeber calling him "FlatFoot" in reference to his PA job. We spent many a shift talking about the PA, the Radio's(the club he was in) and HUMC.He was a great guy a dear friend and coworker he had a knack about striking up conversations with patients to make them smile and forget their problems. He had a great sense of humor.Thank you for remembering his legacy. That summer of 01 Bob invited me and the family up to the tower observation, he gave us the royal treatment, I will never forget him RIP my friend till we meet again

  5. Doug & Karl - Thank you both for your comments. I hope we can all keep Bob, and others, alive by re-telling their stories, especially to their children. The families support in this endeavor has been fantastic. The are truly a beautiful group of people.