Firefighters Running And Remembering Sept. 11, 2001

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Rounding the corner at Highways 87 and 260, these runners are participants in the “Tour of Duty Run LA-NY 2010” which passed through Payson on Tuesday. The group is running from Santa Monica, Calif. to Ground Zero in New York City by Sept. 11 to honor the memory of those who perished on that fateful day in 2001.

The hotter it is, the harder it is, the more they want to run.

A group of 32 American and Australian firefighters battle each other every day to run the harder segments of a cross-country run to honor those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The hotter it is, the more the boys want to get out and run,” said Paul Pfeiffer, group videographer, runner and Australian firefighter.

On the day of September 11, the first-responders knew they would have to climb hundred of stairs and then take on the battle of their lives. For this reason, when the route gets hard and hot, the runners equate this, in some small way, to what those firefighters had to go through, Pfeiffer explained.

“Running in 110-degree temperatures is nothing to going up those stairs to the biggest job you would ever see,” he said.

Firefighters form a unique brotherhood that stretches beyond departments, state lines and even country boundaries. When one falls, all mourn the loss.

On September 11, 411 first-responders lost their lives trying to help those trapped inside the World Trade Center towers.

To honor them and the 2,562 civilians who lost their lives on that day, 16 Australian and 16 American runners, made up of military, police, fire and emergency services personnel, are running from Santa Monica Pier, Calif. to the site of the World Trade Center.

The 4,600-mile route has already passed through Las Vegas (where the Strip was shut down for the runners) and will pass through Albuquerque, Dallas, Chicago and Washington, D.C.

The 31-day, continuous relay run, known as the Tour of Duty, started Aug. 12 and will end Sept. 11 at Ground Zero at 8:46 a.m., exactly nine years to the minute after the first plane collided with the World Trade Center.

On Tuesday, the men and women making the cross-country journey, touched down in Payson for the night, taking over the Payson Fire Department’s parking lot with a half-dozen RVs, support vehicles and a fire truck.

Pfeiffer said the run is all about remembering.

“The Tour of Duty Run LA-NY 2010 is a statement of hope for the future and is intended to reflect the universal values of humanity, camaraderie and self sacrifice,” a press release states.

An Australian citizen today, Pfeiffer grew up in Baltimore. On the morning of September 11, Pfeiffer, like so many others, remembers exactly what he was doing when he saw the towers crumble.

“I was at home in Melbourne and watching it on TV,” he said. “I remember calling back home. There is nothing more I wanted to do than pick up and go to New York and help.”

Making the run for Pfeiffer is way to show his respects.

“It is not just Americans who remember 9-11,” he said, “around the world we remember. Being a firefighter is like being in a brotherhood.” Another runner, New York firefighter James Dowdell, lost his father and NYFD firefighter Kevin Dowdell, on September 11.

A helmet signed by Dowdell’s father more than 12 years earlier is traveling with the Tour of Duty group.

To his surprise, Dowdell was given the firefighter’s helmet on Aug. 11 in Los Angeles. Dowdell never knew the helmet existed.

Other runners lost close friends or relatives on September 11.

Each day of the run is dedicated to a group of first-responders who lost their lives.

During the day, a member from one of three teams — red, white or blue — runs a segment and then another team member runs. For six hours, one team is in charge of having a runner on the road at all times.

Firefighter and runner Ryan Green said runner Russell Fox is especially dedicated to the uphill climbs.

“Everyone wants to do the most strenuous parts,” he said, “but his (Fox) pace is mind-blowing uphill.

“We run with a passion.”

Along their journey, the firefighters said they have met wonderful, supportive people. One woman driving through Payson, saw the group, stopped and donated cases of an energy drink.

Another man, a former New York police officer, tracked the group down in Payson and began bawling when he met the firefighters.

“All he wanted to do was catch up and talk,” Pfeiffer said.

Two years ago, the Tour of Duty run was conceived by Paul Ritchie, a Melbourne firefighter, who had done several charity runs through Australia and Europe.

The event has taken months of planning, participants dolling out their own money and taking leaves of absence from their jobs.

“We still lack a major sponsor,” Pfeiffer said.

Besides remembering those lost, the run is a fund-raising event for several charities, including the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund, The Wounded Warrior Project, Clinton-Bush Haiti Relief Fund, National September 11 Memorial and Museum, 9-11 Tribute Center and select local charities along the run.

To donate or sponsor a runner, visit www.tourofdutyrun.com.

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