In all, 343 firefighters died trying to save lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack at the World Trade Center — including one, Stephen Siller, who ran to the site through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.
Almost that many people from Mineola and the surrounding area — about 325 — will run the same route Sunday to honor Siller and the rest of the first responders killed on that day 15 years ago.
They will be among thousands participating in the Tunnel to Towers 5K run supporting the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a charity founded in Siller’s honor.
Warriors for a Cause, the Mineola-based charity group that sponsors the village’s runners, has donated more than $70,000 to the foundation since its first run in 2013 and plans to give at least $20,000 more this year, said Tony Lubrano, president of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it’s something that’s important not just for the money to be raised but to keep it in people’s minds,” said Lubrano, who owns Piccola Bussola Ristorante on Jericho Turnpike.
Paul Pereira, deputy mayor of the Village of Mineola, has done the run with his wife, Diana, for the past three years. This year about 22 of the varsity boys soccer players he coaches at Mineola High School will join him, running the 3.5 miles in their uniforms.
The experience will help them connect with 9/11, an event they were too young at the time to remember, and build among them a spirit of brotherhood and unity like first responders have, and like the country had immediately after the attacks, Pereira said.
“They don’t get to experience the positive side of one of our darkest days and I think doing this run, they will see it,” he said.
Siller had just finished his shift as a New York City firefighter in Brooklyn on Sept. 11, 2001, and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he heard news of the attack come over his scanner, according to the foundation’s website.
He drove to the entrance of the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel only to find it closed to cars entering Manhattan. He pulled over, strapped on his firefighting gear and ran through the tunnel to the World Trade Center, where he died in the rescue effort.
The first run had just a few hundred people, but the event has grown to more than 35,000 and raised more than $80 million, Lubrano said.
Mineola’s contingent has similarly grown from about 90 in the first year, Lubrano said. The group meets at Chaminade High School in the morning and gets a sendoff from the Mineola Fire Department, which raises a large American flag between two fire trucks, then reunites at Chaminade in the afternoon.
“We’re just proud to be a little piece of that puzzle,” Lubrano said.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s “Building for America’s Bravest” program builds “smart homes” for severely disabled veterans that they can easily navigate and control.
The program is currently looking for a site in Suffolk County to build its first home on Long Island, Lubrano said. Pereira would like to take some soccer players to help build the home in the spring, he said.
“It’s kind of cool to see the money come back right here where we can see what happens,” Lubrano said.