While many runners donned lightweight running gear, some firefighters put on a full 60 pounds of equipment Sunday morning to run in the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K.
The firefighters said they did so in solidarity and remembrance of the men and women who bravely entered the burning twin towers of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York City.
More than 200 people packed into Medina’s Public Square to honor those who lost their lives Sept. 11, 2001, along with remembering the U.S. servicemen and women who have been deployed overseas since.
The Tunnel to Towers 5K is one of nine races held nationwide to benefit the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Siller was a Brooklyn firefighter who had finished a shift that morning in New York.
He was on his way to meet his brothers for golf when he heard about the first plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. He went back to his squad to get his gear and drove his truck to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it already was closed.
Siller got out of his car, strapped on his 60 pounds of gear, and ran more than two miles to the towers where he died while trying to rescue people from inside the buildings. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation helps build homes for veterans who have been seriously injured.
On Sunday, Siller’s brother George and Lt. Jack Kielty of the New York Fire Department spoke at Medina’s 5K.
George Siller said his brother was the youngest of seven siblings and their parents died before Stephen was 10. George said he and the older siblings took on the responsibility of raising and caring for their youngest siblings and said they brought Stephen up like a son.
“He loved the fire department and he loved helping people,” George said. “That’s why on 9/11 he couldn’t have done anything different.”
Kielty compared 9/11 to Pearl Harbor.
“On that Tuesday, I felt like this is Pearl Harbor,” Kielty said. “More people died that day than in the attack on Pearl Harbor.”
And like the attacks on Pearl Harbor that prompted the U.S. to enter World War II, Kielty said many men and women have signed up to serve overseas and have seen military combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Now we have people going into harm’s way and dying and getting hurt,” Kielty said. “We can’t fix everything, but we can make life a little better.”
Kielty, who sits on the board of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, said the group works with veterans to help them purchase land and build a home that suits their needs after any injuries incurred during military service.
“I think these guys deserve so much better,” he said. “I don’t see this as charity. I see it as trying to make things a little more right. They went and served and did everything we asked.”
Kyle Hockenberry, one of the veterans who has been helped by the organization, said: “We appreciate everything they’ve done for us. They customize the house for you; it’s been good.”
Hockenberry, who lost an arm and two legs in Afghanistan in June of 2011, was assisted in building a home tailored to his needs in Marietta. He lives there with his wife, Ashley, and 2-month old son, Reagan.
Members of area fire departments and the Medina Police Department participated in Sunday’s race.
Dan Sparks, a firefighter with the Erhart/York Township Fire Department, wore his full gear, including his helmet.
“It’s what Stephen Siller did,” he said. “It’s in memory of the sacrifice he made. He was in his personal vehicle and he put on all his gear and ran to the scene. He didn’t have to do that.”
The Westfield Fire Department in Westfield Center raised almost $2,000 and had a number of firefighters participate in the race. Some wore their turnout gear and others ran and walked in support of the foundation.
Kim Craig said she joined the Westfield Fire Department with her husband, Terry, after the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s what made us join,” she said. “We wanted to step up and do something in our community.”