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Published September 10, 2011, 08:01 PM

South Florida firefighters honor fallen on Sept. 11 with Tunnel to Towers 5K

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The day before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 350 South Florida firefighters ran in Saturday's inaugural Fort Lauderdale Tunnel to Towers 5K to remember and memorialize Steven Siller and the other 343 firefighters that died in the line of duty that day.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The day before the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 350 South Florida firefighters ran in Saturday's inaugural Fort Lauderdale Tunnel to Towers 5K to remember and memorialize Steven Siller and the other 343 firefighters that died in the line of duty that day.

Siller, to whom the 5K is dedicated, was off duty on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, but when the news of the attacks came over his news scanner, he turned around his car and headed for Manhattan and the World Trade Center towers.

Siller was met with blocked traffic at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. But, instead of conceding, he grabbed his heavy gear, abandoned his truck and ran through the tunnel.

Wearing 60 pounds of gear, Siller emerged from the tunnel and continued running toward the World Trade Center towers. He was then picked up by another FDNY crew, but it is believed that he met up with his crew, Squad 1, at ground zero.

Neither Siller nor the rest of his squad survived that day, but his heroic run through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel — a run of almost exactly 5 kilometers — has been recreated in cities across the United States since 2002.

Fort Lauderdale hosted the event for the first time Saturday, and Miami Fire Lieutenant David Nunez, who helped organize the region's fire department involvement in the event, wanted to make sure that South Florida firefighters properly memorialized those who died in the attacks.

"This was all put together in less than two weeks," Nunez said. "I have brothers and sisters from fire departments from down in the Florida Keys all the way up to Palm Beach County running with us ... anything less than this would have been uncalled for (in honoring them) on the 10-year anniversary."

More than 100 firefighters ran the 5K in their full bunker gear, in homage to Siller.

"We're just trying to pay some honor, some dues, and experience what they experienced (on Sept. 11)," Andy Holtfreter of the Hollywood, Fla., Fire Department said. "The fire department is a big brother and sisterhood, and the sore (of losing a firefighter) doesn't heal that easily."

Dave Vargas, of the Coral Gables, Fla., Fire Department, was one of the 100-plus who ran in their gear. While running with an extra 60 pounds was a burden, he said it was the least he could do to memorialize the fallen 343.

"It was pretty brutal in the heat, but it's worthwhile thing," Vargas said. "(Firefighters) care for each other a great deal. No matter if you're a firefighter in one department or another, it doesn't matter. It's all a brotherhood and sisterhood."

The firefighters, for the most part, ran together Saturday. Greeted by bagpipes, and running under two fire-truck ladders holding up an American flag, the group finished the run in just over half an hour.

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