BOSTON – Former New England Patriots offensive guard Joe Andruzzi started the day like he does on this date every year: with a text to his three brothers, all New York City firefighters, to say he is thinking of them.

All three of his brothers lost "a lot of close friends," Andruzzi said. He spent Sept. 11, 2001 wracked with fear, unable to reach anyone who knew his family's fate until he finally learned later that night that his brothers were safe.

Andruzzi was invited to deliver the keynote address at an event commemorating the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. He stood at the rostrum in a full House chamber before families of the victims and state leaders and shared his personal story, recalling how his brothers were honored before the first Patriots game in the wake of the tragedy.

"I couldn't fathom what any one of them went through," Andruzzi said. "It was just heartwrenching what they saw, what they had to go through."

Gov. Charlie Baker, Lt. Gov Karyn Polito, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh and other elected officials joined in the ceremony, less than an hour after they gathered on the front steps of the State House, where in somber tones they read out the names of hundreds of victims killed in the attacks.

In his remarks, Andruzzi encouraged families and onlookers to make the most of every opportunity they encounter as a way to honor those lost.

"Live every day to the fullest," he said. "You don't know how much time we have here on this earth."

Officials also bestowed the Madeline Amy Sweeney Award for Civilian Bravery at Wednesday's ceremony, an annual tradition. The award is named for a Massachusetts resident who, while aboard one of the hijacked planes as a flight attendant, passed important information to the airline's ground services about the attacks.

New Bedford resident Ross Dugan was selected as this year's recipient. Dugan, an MBTA high-voltage lineman, was returning home from work in Boston early on a February morning when he passed a car engulfed in flames with four passengers inside, unable to escape.

Dugan pulled over and broke the vehicle's windows, helping the passengers escape and sustaining burns and lacerations himself.

"That is truly heroic, and he represents the good people in our communities that stand up to do the right thing, stand up in a hard moment, and put themselves behind another person to live and succeed," Polito, who presented Dugan the award alongside Sweeney's daughter, Anna, said.

Sen. Mark Montigny, who nominated Dugan for the honor, said in a statement that the lineman's "bravery and personal sacrifice saved lives and prevented what could have been a terrible tragedy."

As he closed out the House event, DeLeo said that the day remains emotional even as the years pass.

"Each and every time that I come here today, from day one, I always have the same kind of feeling that I had the very first time we had this ceremony," DeLeo said. "The heartbeat may be a little bit faster. The eyes may still fill up, especially when I look at those beautiful pictures of those that we have lost."

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