Art Student Served as First Responder at Ground Zero

Art Student Served as First Responder at Ground Zero

Posted: May 6, 2013

Matthew Tyree’s sculptures reflect the lives of everyday heroes, the ones who charge into buildings during a fire, the ones first to arrive on the scene of unthinkable tragedies, the ones who sometimes never make it home.

The Buffalo State fine arts major recreates the tools of these heroes—firefighters’ boots and gasmasks—along with the bagpipes played at their funerals in his work. Tyree’s understanding of such a danger-infused career comes from a very personal place. He worked for the New York City Fire Department as an emergency medical technician (EMT) during one the worst days in America—September 11, 2001.

On that terrible day, Tyree, who had been an EMT for one year, handled triage at a church a few blocks from Ground Zero.

“Some people came in with debris in their eyes; some had debris in their throat and were having trouble breathing,” he said. “But mostly, I saw psychological trauma. There were many people we treated who had been in the buildings (Twin Towers) and had managed to escape.”

Among the 343 firefighters and paramedics killed were a friend’s father and a firefighter Tyree had previously worked with. For months after the attack, Tyree helped recover bodies and clean up the World Trade Center site.

The experience changed him forever.

“It fueled my desire to return to school,” said Tyree, a 36-year-old married father of four. Soon after moving to Tonawanda six years ago, Tyree enrolled at Buffalo State to finish a degree he had begun more than a decade earlier. Although he started out focusing on drawing and painting, Tyree soon discovered his affinity and talent for sculpture.

Others have recognized this talent as well.

His sculptures and paintings are included in an exhibit that opened May 5, at ArtSpace Buffalo, 1219 Main Street. 

Tyree continues to work part time as a dispatcher for a private ambulance company. However, he said he wants to focus more on sculpture after graduating in May. He hopes to open his own studio someday.

“It seems like there has been a resurgence of art in Buffalo,” he said. “If I can be part of that, great. That is where I want to be.”

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