A Fallen Hero: BEMCo Friends Remember Michael Guttenberg '89
On Sept. 11, 2001, when everyone else was rushing out of the Twin Towers and away from the wreckage, first responder Michael Guttenberg ’89 was rushing in to help.
More than 16 years later, Guttenberg — one of the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps earliest members — passed away on Oct. 17 from pancreatic cancer. According to an article in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services, “Mike attributed his diagnosis to Ground Zero illness — the health fallout experienced by many first responders and volunteers.” He was 50.
Guttenberg got his start in emergency medicine at Brandeis, serving as a BEMCo EMT and encouraging his friends to join. Marc Pinkas ’88 recalled in an Oct. 2 Brandeis Alumni & Friends article that Guttenberg would often do more than his fair share of BEMCo calls, simply because he enjoyed helping others.
“Mike would frequently join me to help on a call even though he was not on duty, because that’s who he is: selfless and giving,” Pinkas told Brandeis Alumni & Friends.
After graduating, Guttenberg spent more than 30 years in emergency medicine in New York City working as an EMT, paramedic field provider and physician, according to the Oct. 17 Journal of Emergency Medical Services article. Prior to his passing, Guttenberg served as medical director of clinical preparedness at the Center for Emergency Medical Services at Northwell Health, a New York health care provider.
He was serving as an EMS fellow with the Fire Department of New York during the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, charging into the wreckage as a first responder. “As we all know now, the site’s dust and smoke was laden with dangerous organic material and countless toxicants such as jet fuel, PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], dioxins and pulverized glass, drywall and cement,” the JEMS article explained.
After Guttenberg was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 46, his Brandeis classmates and former BEMCo colleagues launched a fundraising initiative to purchase a bench at the University in his honor, with additional funds used to support training for BEMCo members, according to the Alumni & Friends article.
“Mike lectured at NCEMSF [the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation conference], a conference attended by BEMCo annually, and was always excited to meet the newest BEMCo members that were at the conference,” former BEMCo supervisor Yoni Litwok ’07 wrote in an email to the Justice.
He added, “Mike is another victim of 9/11, a fallen hero. Mike’s legacy will live on through BEMCo and all of the other organizations and professionals he touched as a teacher and friend.”