Popping the question to Lydia Mazza was the easy part for Cheshire Fire Capt. Jim Busch; planning the World Trade Center proposal took some doing
CANANDAIGUA — What started out as a playful challenge after a chance encounter in the emergency room ended up in a sky-high marriage proposal that went viral.
Cheshire Fire Capt. Jim Busch, 31, proposed on Sunday to Lydia Mazza, 22, who recently joined the department as a volunteer, atop 1 World Trade Center, the same address of the former Twin Towers that were destroyed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Busch and Mazza participated in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation charity climb. This is Busch’s second time running up the 104 floors to honor firefighters who perished while responding to the 9/11 attacks.
“It meant a lot to me, because I’m a firefighter and a lot of firefighters fell at the Towers,” Busch said. “New York City has a special place in my heart.”
So, he thought, wouldn’t it be great to propose to Mazza, a woman near and dear to his heart, in a place near and dear to his heart?
Great idea, but putting this plan into action required a bit of effort, almost like the effort it took for the two of them to become a couple.
Mazza was a newly hired phlebotomist the second week into her job and Busch an intensive care unit nurse at F.F. Thompson Hospital when they crossed paths about 18 months ago. She was nice with patients and she seemed nice herself, Busch recalled.
“He said, ‘You’re a new face. What’s your name?’” Mazza said. “I teased him, ‘You’ll never know.’ I put him up to the challenge.”
Obviously, Busch learned her name, which impressed Mazza because he had to go through some hoops to find out. And on their first date, they went out to dinner, which is where she learned he was a firefighter. And he took her for a ride in one of the trucks and showed her some of the equipment they use.
“Wow! He’s really something,” Mazza said she thought at the time.
On Valentine’s Day this year, they officially committed publicly to being a couple, and he sent a large bouquet of flowers to her desk, she said.
“The cat was out of the bag,” Mazza said. “With surprises, he’s either zero or 100.”
And things escalated quickly from there, to the point where they went looking at rings.
“She knew it was coming, but she didn’t have a clue of where or when,” Busch said. “She didn’t suspect anything, which was great. And I kept playing it off.”
And he almost had to, because you don’t just propose to someone at 1 World Trade Center, according to Catherine Christman, who handles media relations for the foundation.
For security reasons, no jewelry is allowed past the tight security — climbers wear an armband that only has room to carry an ID and their bib numbers, Christman said.
“One step up from just your birthday suit — it’s come as you are,” Christman said. “We’re very vigilant on everything security related.”
Busch can attest, as he said he easily made 50 phone calls and sent text and email messages to work out the logistics.
Busch ended up driving to Christman’s home in Connecticut, and she and her husband agreed to hang onto the ring, which sat on their mantle until the big day.
“It was lovely getting to know him,” Christman said. “I kept thinking, what a lucky girl Lydia is. He is just so sincere and bubbly. And after meeting her, what a lucky guy.”
Busch and Christman worked out the choreography on how this would happen to a T, including concocting a story about why so many members of the media were there when they finished so Mazza wouldn’t be suspicious, Christman said.
Because Busch had completed the climb a year before, Christman calculated his approximate finish time this year based on his time of last year, so she could slip him the ring while also coordinating the media for their arrival.
They both finished the run together. Race staff had large posters with the words, “I climbed for … “ with room for finishers to sign a name.
“Will you marry me?” was on the back of one of the cards, which Mazza saw and immediately turned to find Busch, who was on one knee. She does not cry very easily, Busch said, but she was taken aback.
The answer? Busch wrote on one of the cards: “She said yes.”
Actually, on video footage when she’s asked if this was a yes or no, she responded: “Absolutely!”
“It was absolutely fantastic. I was completely fooled,” Mazza said. “He really set the bar high for other men.”
Christman said the run was set up as a way for participants to race to the top in a way in which the fallen firefighters could not do that tragic day. The event, which raises money for the families of these fallen first responders, also is a way to show love conquers evil, Christman said.
“If ever there was a symbol of love triumphing over evil, this was it,” Christman said.
Mazza, from Victor, has added emergency room technician to her duties at the hospital. She also is preparing to study nursing at Finger Lakes Community College in the fall.
She decided to volunteer at Cheshire because of her interest in critical care and was curious about emergency medical services. After she said she prayed about it and “took it to God,” the opportunity to save lives together was an opportunity too good to pass up.
Busch, a six-year member who is a past Firefighter of the Year, is a huge asset to the Cheshire Volunteer Fire Department, said Fire Chief Mike Northrup, who said the engagement is “awesome.”
“Jim is a tall guy who likes to do things in a big way,” Northrup said. “He’s just a ball of fire, helping people and doing the right thing.”
An actual wedding date is up in the air at this point.
“A lot of changes are taking place," Mazza said. "I’m up for the adventure, especially alongside a man as extraordinary as he is.”
VIDEO COURTESY: Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation