Firefighters, others honor victims of 9/11 at annual 5K run and walk in Newport Beach

By Lou Ponsi

With a massive U.S. flag on a Newport Beach Fire Department ladder truck hanging above their heads, hundreds gathered at the base of a walking bridge at Bayside Marina in Newport Beach on Sunday.

The crowd, which included firefighters in full turnout gear, was on hand Sept. 10 to participate in the annual Stephen Siller Foundation Tunnel to Towers 5K, named for a New York firefighter killed in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Adam Loeser, Deputy Chief-Operations for the Fullerton & Brea Fire Department, walks with his two daughters across the starting bridge displaying posters of 9/11 first responders who lost their lives.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

As the runners and walkers crossed over the bridge, they passed by photos of the fallen first responders that were pinned along the railings on both sides.

Participants included fire personnel from host agency Newport Beach, Brea-Fullerton, Lakeside, Burbank and the San Miguel Consolidated Fire Protection District (San Miguel Fire & Rescue). They were joined by folks just wanting to support the cause.

Tom Frost of Rancho Santa Margarita, right, father of Lisa Frost, who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 after it was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001, gives Eric Hille, an engineer for San Miguel Fire & Rescue, a hug after Hille presented him with the 9/11 flag he carried as he ran the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk at Newport Dunes.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“We’re very happy to see some of the other departments here,” said Newport Beach Firefighter/Paramedic Bryan Carter, one of the organizers of the event. “Some of these guys are really representing and honoring Stephen Siller.”

The Stephen Siller Foundation donates its proceeds to organizations that support firefighters, police and the military.

Tom Frost of Rancho Santa Margarita, right, father of Lisa Frost, who died aboard United Airlines Flight 175 after it was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in 2001, left, holds the 9/11 flag presented to him by Eric Hille, an engineer for San Miguel Fire & Rescue, at the conclusion of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk at Newport Dunes.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Siller, who was assigned to a station in Brooklyn, was headed toward the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel on route to lower Manhattan on Sept.11, 2001.

The tunnel had already been closed, however, so Siller carried 60 pounds of gear on his back and traveled on foot through the tunnel.

Jeffery Terzo, a probationary firefighter with the Newport Beach Fire Department, front, runs across the Newport Dunes bridge during the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

He made it to the World Trade Center, where he was among 343 New York firefighters who perished.

“You see smoke in the sky and you’re going that way,” Newport Beach Fire Chief Chip Duncan said, referring to Siller and firefighters in general. “We’ve all done stuff like that. That could have been any one of us that day. This is a good way to remember 9/11.”

Eric Hille, a fire engineer with San Miguel Fire & Rescue, took on an extreme challenge to pay tribute to his fallen comrades.

Runners and first responders gather at Newport Dunes before the start of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Along with donning his turnout gear, Hille completed the 5K while wearing a training mask designed to replicate the difficult breathing conditions of a fire.

He also was carrying a special U.S. flag that read, “We will never forget.”

Newport Beach Fire Chief Chip Duncan before the run.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“On 9/11, they had everything on climbing up those towers,” Hille said. “If you want to honor them, you do it the same way they did.”

A day before Sunday’s 5K, Hille participated in a 9/11 memorial stair-climb San Diego, where participants duplicated a 110-story stair climb, equaling the number of stories in the World Trade Center towers.

Runners and first responders gather at Newport Dunes before the start of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

At that event, Hille met Tom Frost of Ranch Santa Margarita, whose 22-year-old daughter, Lisa, was aboard United Airlines Flight 175, the plane that slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

After the 5K, the two men hugged and Hille presented Frost with the flag he’d carried the whole way.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Frost said. “I wasn’t expecting it.”

Matt Skelly, of the Newport Beach Fire Department, walks a dog across the Newport Dunes bridge during the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Kristen Deering of Costa Mesa, who is not a firefighter, participated with several friends and finished first among the female runners.

“Anytime we can help out and come out and support a great cause, we’re always down,” Deering said.

For more information about the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, visit tunnel2towers.org

Firefighter Andrew Whitehead joins other runners as they cross the Newport Dunes bridge, displayed with posters of first responders who died during the 9/11 attacks 16 years ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Andrew Kaford of the Newport Beach Fire Department reacts as he finishes the first of three laps at the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Runners and first responders cross the bridge at Newport Dunes during the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Eric Hille of San Miguel Fire & Rescue crosses the finish line in full gear and oxygen mask.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Bryan Carter, left, one of the key organizers of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk, and Matt Skelly, both of the Newport Beach Fire Department, turn the corner in full gear as they complete the first of three laps around Newport Dunes during the 5K run.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Runners cross the bridge with photos of New York first responders who died during the 9/11 attacks 16 years ago.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Engineer Eric Hille of San Miguel Fire & Rescue finishes the first of three laps around Newport Dunes in full fire gear and oxygen mask.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC