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New Yorkers Follow In The Footsteps Of Heroic 9/11 Firefighter On 5K Run

Hannah Grossman Contributor

Thousands remember the sacrifice of 9/11 firefighter Stephen Siller by following in his footsteps to the twin towers last Sunday.

Firefighter Stephen Siller always believed in doing good while he still had the time. On Sept. 11th this life mantra propelled the 34-year-old to make haste when he heard the news that the World Trade Center was struck.

Siller canceled a planned golf trip with his family. He would never make it home again to reschedule those plans.

At the firehouse, Siller discovered that his Squad-1 fire unit already left for the Towers. Instead of throwing in the towel, he set off using his personal truck to get to Manhattan. He hit another impasse at Brooklyn Battery Tunnel where he was prevented by security from driving into Manhattan.

Not to be deterred, Siller set off on foot with his heavy gear through the Tunnel.

“[Siller] strapped 60 pounds of gear on his back, left his truck, and ran through the Tunnel to the Towers where he gave up his life to save others on September 11th,” said Trevor Tamsen, a spokesman for the Stephen Siller Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation, an organization founded by Siller’s family following his tragic death. (RELATED: Trump Signs 9/11 First Responders Relief Bill)

Firefighters walk towards one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed after a plane hit the building September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

Firefighters walk towards one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed after a plane hit the building September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

Over 30,000 Americans from around the country retraced the heroic firefighter’s path from Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers in recognition of Siller’s sacrifice and that of hundreds of other firefighters, police officers and first responders. The annual event is called the “Tunnel 2 Towers 5K.”

The Stephen Siller Tunnel 2 Towers Foundation, who organized the run, have raised over $125 million dollars to benefit military families and first responders. One program funds mortgage free homes for military families who had lost a service member in Iraq or Afghanistan, and another Foundation program finances smart adaptive homes for the most severely injured military men so they can live independent lives.

“It’s just amazing that [Siller] put on his 60 lbs of gear and ran through this tunnel to help thousands of people escape from the World Trade Center. It just feels wonderful to walk in his steps,” said Michele Walsh-Meyers, an attendee. Walsh-Meyers lost five friends on 9/11. (RELATED: Moment Of Silence Observed At Ground Zero To Remember 9/11)

Walsh-Meyers wore the FDNY badge of a former classmate who perished on 9/11. “He was the funniest kid. He made you laugh all the time,” she said of her childhood friend, Firefighter Timothy Haskell. Haskell’s Brother, Firefighter Tommy Haskell, Jr., met the same fate as his brother on 9/11.

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: (SEPTEMBER 11 RETROSPECTIVE) A firefighter breaks down after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed September 11, 2001 after two hijacked airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a terrorist attack. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: (SEPTEMBER 11 RETROSPECTIVE) A firefighter breaks down after the World Trade Center buildings collapsed September 11, 2001 after two hijacked airplanes slammed into the twin towers in a terrorist attack. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Firefighters from around the country huffed and puffed in 30-50 lbs of gear, which they said helps them understand what Siller went through on 9/11.

Steven McGowen of FDNY strapped an oxygen tank on his back. “If [Siller] could do it then we could do it. Might as well see if we can follow in his footsteps somehow,” he said. (RELATED: 9/11 Firefighter Whose Son Was Murdered On Day Of Attacks Slams Omar)

“I couldn’t even imagine what he was going through at that time,” said Firefighter Klayton Williams who was dressed from head to toe in his gear.  Williams works at Santa Clara Fire in California. “I hope at the end of my career I could be half the man that he was,”

September 11th changed many lives. It broke the hearts of many families and the United States has never been the same.

Gregory Roberts was in 5th grade when 9/11 happened. On Sunday he wore his military uniform. He pointed to the Freedom Tower and said, “9/11″ inspired him to join the army.

“Things like this make the pain easier,” said Stella Herold while choking up. Herold lost her brother-in-law, Gary Herold, on 9/11.

Gary, with the help of his colleague, Eric Eisenberg, spent their last moments helping their co-workers from Aon Insurance escape. They both perished in the South Tower.

“They were civilians, but on that day they were heroes,” Stella Herold said.

In addition to commemorating the victims of Sept. 11, the 5K Run featured banners of the thousands of lost service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

“It makes us have a purpose,” Stella Harold said. It’s her fourth time participating. “It’s an emotional thing to do but it’s so important for us to make sure that these people do not get forgotten about.”