Skip to content

Lee Ielpi

Lee Ielpi, Retired FDNY - 9/11 Hero

Lee Ielpi, Retired FDNY - 9/11 Hero 

 Lee Ielpi is a much decorated veteran of the elite FDNY Special Operations Company 2 and a Vietnam veteran.  He spent 26 years with the FDNY and his two sons, Jonathan and Brendan, followed in his footsteps also becoming New York 

firefighters.  

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Lee received a phone call from his son Jonathon telling him that he was headed to a fire at the World Trade Center.  Lee finished the conversation with “be safe Buddy” and that was the last time he spoke to his son - Jonathon Lee Ielpi, a 29-year-old father of 2 young sons. Lee’s second son, Brendan was a probationary firefigher for just four months at the time and also responded to the World Trade Center site.  

When Lee arrived at the World Trade Center site, the towers had collapsed, fires were raging, and the site was strewn with huge pieces of twisted steel and crushed fire trucks. He spent months searching the smoldering, surreal rubble of what has once been the tallest buildings in the world looking for Jonathon.  During his grueling work at the World Trade Center site, Lee become part of the well-known group called “The Band of Dads” - a group of senior first responders who, like Lee, were diligently working daily at Ground Zero searching for their sons. They inspired others with their fortitude and determination.

After three months of searching, Lee’s son Jonathon’s body was found.  Lee, along with son Brandon, carried Jonathon out of the debris pile.  “In the tradition of the fire department, we carry out our own,” states Lee.

Lee continued his dedicated search at Ground Zero for the next six months alongside “The Band of Dads”. Sadly, Lee was the only one in the group to bring his son home. 

Since 2001, Lee has dedicated his life to 9/11 education & remembrance.  Lee has served as President of the September 11th Families’ Association Board of Directors since 2002 and co-founded the 9/11 Tribute Museum.  The museum is a large exhibit directly across from the former south tower of the World Trade Center which houses photos, artifacts and videos that tell the stories of 9/11 victims and survivors.  The coat and helmet that Jonathon was wearing when he was recovered are on display there.

Lee became recognized as a spokesperson for 9/11 family members in public forums and was instrumental in developing the activities of the September 11th Families’ Association.  He is a leader among the families who lost a loved one on 

September 11th and has served as a representative for families on the National September 11th Memorial and Museum Board of Directors, the LMDC Family Advisory Council, the Twin Towers Board and the FDNY Family Advisory Unit.  

When asked why Lee has remained so committed to 9/11 education, he comments, “You have to make tomorrow a better day.  I can’t bring my son back, but we can do it better for the children of the world.”

Lee served as a member of the elite Special Operations Company, Rescue 2, for nineteen years.  He was trained in rescue, hazardous materials and scuba operations.  Lee was awarded twenty-four recognitions of exemplary service ranging from Class 3 medals to Unit Citations from his Rescue Company. Awards included three of the prestigious Class 3 Rescue medals and a Class B ribbon of honor for service beyond duty. Mr. Ielpi retired from the New York City Fire Department in 1996 after 26 years of service.  

Prior to joining the FDNY, Mr. Ielpi served in the US Army as a Recon specialist in Vietnam.  Mr. Ielpi was active in combat operations receiving a Bronze Star for valor, 2 Army Commendation Medals for Valor, Air Medal, Combat Infantry Badge during his tour.