NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – A Northeast Florida woman is remembering her older brother who lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001.
Thomas Gambino Jr. was a New York City firefighter for nearly 30 years before being killed at the World Trade Center during the attacks.
He was one of the first firefighters to respond to the World Trade Center and one of 343 firefighters killed that day.
Paying tribute to those lost on this day 20 years ago does not get easier, his family said.
“Pain does not go away it’s the same as day one, your focus though is redirected,” Valerie Gambino said.
Valerie and Laurie Gambino lost their brother on Sept. 11.
“The last contact he was on the 78th floor,” Valerie Gambino said.
Although Nassau County Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Jeff Dodd did not know Thomas, they still share a common bond.
“There is a brotherhood and sisterhood that comes with the fire department no matter what county or what state you’re in so our hearts go out to those families still today,” Dodd said.
Thomas’ body was never found, but his helmet was recovered in the rubble. It’s now in his family’s possession.
Valerie made a promise to honor her big brother.
“When he died I made a promise to do something to give back in the same manner. It took 10 years but I found cycling and I wound up with a veteran group who used cycling as a means of rehab and that’s where my journey began in recovery,” Valerie Gambino said.
That program, called Project Hero Hub Jacksonville, a group Valerie now represents.
More than a dozen bicyclists with that group and North Florida Bicycle Club riding 33 miles in the Project Hero 9/11 Memorial Ride.
“By helping others it kind of helps that pain and it keeps my brother’s spirit alive,” Valerie Gambino said.