By Andrew Rudansky
Running out of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, onto the streets of Manhattan, the 23 members of the Sag Harbor Volunteer Fire Department were greeted by rows of American flags and banners. Cheering onlookers urged them on to finish the last leg of the race.
The Sag Harbor firefighters were just a small part of the 30,000 participants that took part in the 10th Anniversary Firefighter Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run last Sunday, September 25.
The run retraced the steps of firefighter Steven Siller; who on the morning of September 11, 2001 ran in full gear from the tunnel to the site of the World Trade Center. Siller along with 342 other firefighters perished in the disaster.
“It was all pretty amazing when you first come out of the tunnel and see these lines of firefighters holding flags and banners commemorating the 343 firefighters who perished,” said Sag Harbor firefighter Jeff Martin. “As you are getting a little tired, a little winded, you get a real emotional boost from all of the faces of the people on those banners.”
After taking part in the event alone last year Martin, with the help of Kelly Bailey and Tom Gardella, was determined to share the experience with their fellow firefighters.
“One of the coolest things about this event is how many people come out every year…every year it has gotten bigger and bigger,” said Bailey, who ran for the first time this year.
The race starts in Brooklyn, goes through the tunnel into Manhattan and ends near the site of the new Freedom Tower. Besides the 23 Sag Harbor firefighters who ran in the event, five Sag Harbor firefighters participated as members of the color guard.
Ted Stafford, Warren Bramoff, Ray Card, Paul Bailey and John Meighan all lined the path of the Manhattan leg of the race dressed in their Class A uniforms. Some were holding American flags, others were holding banners with the names and pictures of the “343” that perished on 9/11.
“At the finish line, when I saw all of the color guard carrying the banners of those who perished. The enormity of the loss, that’s when it hit me,” said Francis Schiavoni, 53, the oldest Sag Harbor firefighter to run.
“It was emotional what those people did that day, and what the people did ten years later to commemorate it,” said Meighan. “Especially at the end when the color guard paraded to the finish line, it was all tremendous.”
The event raised money for a number of different charitable organizations that help wounded veterans, burn victims and the children of deceased armed forces members.
“The thing I took away from it, with all the bickering and politics in this country, it was us. It was us who got together and tried to make a difference,” said Gardella.
The Sag Harbor firefighters plan on going again next year, hopefully with even more members participating.
“The run is very inspiring, if there is ever anything you think that we can’t do, just go there and you’ll see,” said Bailey.