911 Stories: Jo Ann Stach

That was the last normal day for Jo Ann Stach and her 5 children: 10-year-old Darren; 5-year-old Corrin; 4-year-old Kayla; 3-year-old Ryan; Tyler was 1. Jo Ann’s husband, Joe, was a New York City firefighter in the Bronx. She remembers him calling at 9:06​ in the morning on 9/11 telling her he was on his way down to The World Trade Center, warning her to stay off the tv news. Jo Ann didn’t speak to Joe again for 48 hours. One of her most vivid memories was picking up two of her pre-schoolers that morning and making eye contact with another FDNY wife, who had kids the same age. The next time the women met, just days later, there was no eye contact. Jo Ann’s husband made it home after 9/11. The other FDNY wife was now a widow.

Jo Ann was on the phone all night September 11th, speaking with one FDNY wife after the other. She awakened in the morning with a bottle of wine in her hand, saying to herself, “And I don’t even drink!”

While Joe Stach made it home, he was never the same. First came PTSD.The nightmares. The night Jo Ann awakened to find Joe downstairs. When he heard her he shouted out, “Stop!!! We found something. Don’t move”. They stood that way for 3-4 hours. Joe thought he was on the pile, looking for signs of life.

Then there were the strange emotional reactions to the smell of Vicks vaporub, which Jo Ann says was her go-to remedy for their 5 young children. For so long, Jo Ann didn’t realize that the smell put Joe in a tailspin because firefighters had put Vicks up their noses to mask the wrenching smell of the pile. The PTSD stopped only when Joe was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2018. Jo Ann says, “It brought him back to us”. He was extremely humble and human. He was able to feel again, but for a very short time. 51-year-old retired Lt. Joe Stach Jr. died of his 9/11 cancer just 8 months after his diagnosis

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