Twenty-two years after the World Trade Center fell in the worst terrorist attack in American history, thousands of New Yorkers are still running to remember the first responders who gave their lives to save others.
On Sunday, police officers, firefighters and civilians alike joined together to sprint from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center during the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K Run and Walk, retracing the steps of Brooklyn Squad 1 Firefighter Stephen Gerard Siller.
Founded by one of Stephen Siller’s brothers, Frank Siller, the annual event sees some arrive dressed in sneakers and shorts while others come donning full firefighter bunker apparel, complete with heavy gear strapped to their back, akin to Stephen Siller over two decades prior.
According to Frank Siller, his brother had finished his shift and was planning to spend the day with his family when the first plane collided with the North Tower, sending him into action. With traffic through the tunnel having been shut down, Stephen Siller and fellow first responders jogged through the underpass to Ground Zero, where he ultimately lost his life. And still, all these years later, those who ran into chaos are still losing their lives. The death toll of firefighters lost after 9/11 has now reached 343 — the same number of those who were lost that day.
“Unfortunately, we reached a really somber milestone today, which is we’ve lost 343 of our members in the World Trade Center to cancer following 9/11,” Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said. “Today is an incredibly somber and sad day.”
The mood seemed to be matched by the weather as rain bombarded the runners while they huddled together in plastic ponchos before the event even kicked off. Both running and walking, some 40,000 participants were expected to join throughout the 5K event. This included police and firefighters from multiple countries who traveled to pay homage to the 343 FDNY firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority Police Department officers, three court officers, in addition to the thousands of civilians who perished.
Attendees Sunday were joined by NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Tania Kinsella, who likewise called it a “somber day” before setting off and making the run herself.
“We are running for a great cause,” Kinsella said. “Let us never forget those who lost their lives. Today let this be their day and always remember their legacy. They gave the ultimate sacrifice so we can live.”
Proceeds garnered by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation are used to gift first responders, military veterans, and their families with mortgage-free homes. This is a big reason why individuals chose to run in Tunnel to Towers, including those who actually responded 22 years ago.
Police Officer Eloy Suarez, who currently works out of Police Service Area 4, was one of those first responders on 9/11. Every year, he returns to the memorial run, dashing along the 5K route and holding the Star Spangled Banner imbued with the names of first responders who lost their lives. He told amNewYork Metro that it makes him feel like they are running with him.
“It’s a great cause. I lost people, I am still going through my personal effects from 9/11,” Suarez said, eyes welling with tears. “It was just like that movie The Day After Tomorrow. Chaos, quiet — very eerie. I was part of the recovery effort…I have my moments.”