Park Slope firefighter Stephen Siller left behind five young children when he raced through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to the burning World Trade Center on 9-11, wearing 75 pounds of firefighting gear.
He made it to the scene. But he never made it home.
On Sunday, close to 30,000 runners carried the Stars and Stripes and chanted, “U.S.A.” as they retraced his perilous path in the 10th annual “Tunnel to Towers” run. Their mission? To raise money for burn centers, build homes for gravely wounded soldiers, and support children who have lost a parent — all cornerstones of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, established in memory of the Squad 1 smokeeater, the youngest of seven siblings.
The number of runners, according to organizers, was up from 2,000 in the first year and included several out-of-state rescue workers — from the San Francisco Fire Department to the London Fire Brigade.
Iraq War amputees Bacillio Santellana and Dustin Fleming came from Texas to put a determined foot forward, and Missouri native Todd Nicely — one of three surviving quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — kept awe-inspiring pace with the human river of support raging towards the finish line at Battery Park for concluding ceremonies.
The atmosphere was more celebratory than mournful: A concert jumpstarted the race, Beyoncé boomed brightly from speakers in the tunnel and former Mayor Giuliani beamed from the sidelines. Bay Ridge’s Republican Rep. Michael Grimm, a former Marine, and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R–Bay Ridge) also participated.
This year’s run was even more uplifting because participants crossed the finish line in view of the new soaring towers.
Siller’s widow, Sarah, ran in her husband’s turnout coat, recalling, “When I took the jacket out of the closet for the first time, it still smelled like smoke.”
The huge turn out heartened the Bravest’s family.
“My brother dedicated his life to helping people, and he lost his life helping people,” said Siller’s brother, Frank. “If he was still here, he’d be doing more than any of us.”