Firefighters run across the country in honor of Sept. 11

Runners take U.S. 1 on their way up to New York

  • Local runner Rich Fitzpatrick and Melbourne resident Tony Martin, running their stint in the Tour of Duty run to honor the fallen firefighters at the World Trade Center.
Local runner Rich Fitzpatrick and Melbourne resident Tony… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
September 09, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

Paul Pfeiffer, a firefighter for 13 years, remembers when the towers fell nine years ago.

Recalling Sept. 11, 2001, the Australian resident said, "I felt homesick on that day more than any other."

For the first time since the attacks, Pfeiffer, who grew up in Ellicott City and La Plata, has returned to the states to run in the Tour of Duty journey, along with other Australian and U.S. firefighters to honor the first responders who served that day.

"We want people to remember. We want people to remember what we lost — what America felt," connecting the entire country and beyond, he said. "It affected the whole world. I felt no different than my family watching the news in Baltimore."

On Thursday, the 36 runners — 20 Americans and 16 Australians — made their way north from Washington along U.S. 1, heading through Elkridge at sunset. The run was created by members of the Melbourne Fire Brigade, who have been running in similar events in Australia since 1983.

Two runners were flanked by two Jayco Greyhawk RVs, a fire engine, an SUV and three Baltimore City police escorts up Wilkens Avenue about 9 p.m. The team was heading to Loyola University to run laps with the school's club rugby team at their new Sean Lugano Memorial Field, named after a 1995 graduate and captain of the club rugby team who died Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center. His family and friends raised money to name the field.

"It's amazing to come back to Loyola," said Dan Steffens, 34, a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer who was friends with Lugano in college. "It ties in with what we are about," he said. "It's going to be a great run down to the field," he said as the caravan left.

This team began the journey at 8.46 a.m. Aug. 12 at the Santa Monica Pier in California, and its members have been running ever since, passing through Maryland on their last leg on the trip from Washington to New York City, where they are scheduled to arrive Saturday morning.

The route is about 4,600 miles, crisscrossing from Las Vegas to New Orleans, up to Chicago, to Washington and then to New York in 31 days. Pfeiffer said that "the harder the leg" of the route — say, the 110-degree heat in the Mojave Desert — "the more motivated the guys are."

The runners get about five hours of sleep a day, which can take a toll on the body, but everyone has "been running through it. It's a bit of a macho complex," he said. They rotate time off among three groups — a red, white and blue group. Each runner gets 12 hours off to eat, shower, sleep and recover.

Pfeiffer said, however, that the grueling month away from his family has been worth it, with the runners getting to meet and benefit from the hospitality of local fire departments offering their support.

"Every firehouse has accepted us like family, as if we were workmates for 20 years," he said.

With just a few miles left in their journey, Pfeiffer said the trip has been a rare experience, meeting with first responders at firehouses across the country, but he will be happy to return home, too.

"My boy started crying, saying, 'Dad, I miss you,' " he said. But he said the runners have kept in touch with help from Facebook and Skype. He said he reminds his children of why he is running, telling his son, "The guys that suffered — they're dad never came home."

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