With the 20th year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Loudon hopes to start a new tradition.
The city’s first Tunnel to Towers Foundation 5K run and walk is set for Saturday morning following Loudon’s Sept. 11 memorial service.
Tunnel to Towers Foundation is a nonprofit organization in New York operated in honor of the late Stephen Siller, a firefighter who died responding to the World Trade Center.
The nonprofit remembers Siller by “supporting the heroes who continue to risk life and limb in the line of duty.”
“With it being the 20th year I think was a special occasion, and I had heard of Tunnel to Towers (Foundation) but I wasn’t sure — honestly it was my curiosity why something was called ‘Tunnel to Towers’,” Jeff Harris, Loudon mayor, said. “The name intrigued me to the point, and during the presidential election watching the news and different things, Tunnel to Towers is a sponsor especially on Fox News. The name just intrigued me.
“... (Stephen Siller) was a New York City fireman who had finished his shift and was going to meet his brothers to play golf that day on Sept. 11 and when the call went out the planes were hitting the towers, he turns around and goes back to the fire station, gets his gear on and heads to the towers,” Harris added. “He gets stopped at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, so his truck was at Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, the traffic’s backed up so he can’t get to the towers, so he parks his truck and runs from the tunnel to the towers.”
Loudon’s run will be one of several across the country raising money for the foundation. Harris said the run doesn’t have to be on Sept. 11.
According to a 2021 fact sheet from the nonprofit, 93% of fundraising dollars go directly to programs.
“What they focus on is giving a mortgage-free home to Gold Star Families,” Harris said. “A mortgage-free home, pay off the mortgage for any first responder family, and then they build smart homes for disabled veterans. They’ll build a home if a veteran lost legs or arms or whatever, they build that house that they can get their life back. They give the keys to them mortgage free.”
The organization provided 250 homes in 2020.
Harris said 70 runners have signed up so far. He initially aimed for 50.
At least 12 Loudon firefighters have expressed interest in the run, Mike Brubaker, Loudon fire chief, said.
“The ones that have signed up, a lot of them are wanting to do it just like he did and that’s what I want to try to do,” Harris said. “I mean I want to try to mimic just exactly what he did. Even though I’m sure it’s not the same, but still you can kind of get a picture of what he went through just to get there. To me that just says a lot about somebody and how serious they took their job and in trying to save loves, he lost his. I’m going to try to do it that very same way.”
“And it is taxing, I’ve done it before, me and one of our officers did it in Gatlinburg,” Brubaker added. “After three miles, I can’t imagine what it’s like to fight a fire in. He did three miles and then climbed and who knows how many (levels).”
Brubaker estimated the gear weighs about 60 pounds.
The race will follow Loudon’s ceremony, which is set for 8:30 a.m. at the Loudon Fire Department.
“It’s a very brief ceremony,” Brubaker said. “As the mayor indicated, we do have firefighters that were just toddlers when this happened. Just for them to go through and hear people talk about it and realize what happened it’s very important I think.”
“One thing I look at it is you never know, we could be applying to have someone’s mortgage paid off or qualify to get a smart home for a disabled vet,” Harris said. “I mean we could have a need for that, too, at some point. I don’t of the process of what that is, but this at least gives us an avenue to do that, and an organization that that’s what they’re about.”