Shadowbox Tour comes to Whidbey Island


Lt. Ralph Tufano, a Sept. 11 first responder and retired member of the Fire Department of New York, visited the island’s two Carpet One Floor and Home stores Oct. 6 to recognize their participation in a nationwide campaign to build “smart” homes for wounded veterans.

Tufano, age 56, retired out of Ladder 80 on Staten Island. He is one of several 9/11 first responders traveling the country in the Building for America’s Bravest Shadowbox Tour, presenting Carpet One Floor and Home stores nationwide with a shadowbox containing a piece of steel collected from Ground Zero.

The shadowbox is a means of recognition for the contribution Carpet One Floor and Home has made to Building for America’s Bravest, a program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

The foundation was established in honor of Stephen Siller, who sacrificed his life to save others on Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation’s mission is to support other first responders and veterans who have sacrificed “life and limb” for their country, according to the foundation web site.

Carpet One Floor and Home and its manufacturing partner, Mohawk, began a company-wide national campaign in early 2015. Their objective was to provide flooring materials and installation for 46 “smart” homes for veterans returning from overseas deployments who had been severely injured. As a part of the campaign, stores also asked customers to donate a minimum of $10 in hopes of raising enough funds to donate flooring and installation for at least two more homes.

Each home is customized to meet the specific needs of each veteran, and is built using “smart,” adaptive technology to help these men and women to lead more independent lives. The technology used to build these homes typically comes with a hefty price tag, far exceeding what most of these veterans can afford to pay for with their pensions.

During the presentation, Tufano recalled the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and his arrival at the scene.

He was off duty when the first tower was hit, he said, and hurriedly grabbed his equipment and headed into the city.

“This was before there was total recall and every available first responder was called in to get to the scene,” he said. “As I was driving in, I saw the first tower go down. I said right then, ‘We just lost 200 people.’”

After he parked his vehicle, he walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and witnessed the second tower collapse.

When the dust cleared, he went to his command post and did all that he could along with his fellow first responders, he said.

Throughout his talk, Tufano related to fellow firefighters from the North Whidbey, Oak Harbor and NAS Whidbey Fire departments.

“We’re a different breed,” he said.

Though Tufano said he has not yet experienced any health issues related to breathing in the toxic dust that mingled in the air at Ground Zero following the collapse, many of his colleagues have not been so fortunate.

More than 100 first responders have died from stomach cancer, lung cancer and similar issues, most likely thought to be the result of toxic dust inhalation, he said. Inside the Ladder 80 fire department, Tufano said, a memorial wall has been established in honor of those who died from illnesses related to 9/11.

Like first responders, he said, military personnel risk their lives on a regular basis in order to save and protect others.

The Building for America’s Bravest program helps to support these men and women in a gesture of gratitude for their sacrifices, he noted.

“It’s an honor, an absolute honor,” said Oak Harbor Floors Plus Carpet One owner Denny DeWispelaere of receiving the shadowbox and meeting Tufano.

The shadowboxes will remain in the stores for permanent display.

For more information on the Building for America’s Bravest program, visit