Since the 2020 Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk could not be held because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southampton firefighters and their families took part in a virtual race closer to home on Sunday.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation puts on the event annually to symbolize New York City Firefighter Stephen Siller’s final footsteps from the foot of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, now known as the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, to the Twin Towers, and to pay homage to the 343 FDNY firefighters, 63 law enforcement officers, and thousands of civilians who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. More than 500,000 people have followed in Siller’s footsteps.
Forced to cancel the in-person event, the foundation launched the Never Forget Virtual Challenge to remember Siller and those who died on 9/11, as well as continue to raise money for the foundation, which benefits fallen first responder and Gold Star families with young children, as well as service members catastrophically injured.
“We decided to partake in that and do our own 5K,” said Jeremy McMahon, a first lieutenant in the Southampton Fire Department who helps to organize the group of firefighters who attend the Tunnel to Towers race each year.
This year, the group gathered under a big flag draped from the tower ladder at the Windmill Lane firehouse at 3 p.m. They set out on a route through Southampton Village — some running in full firefighter turnout gear. A handful of firefighters competed against each other in a race, while others walked.
About 40 people turned out between fire department members and their family, including children. McMahon said they wished they could have invited firefighters from other agencies, but were restricted to 50 under the pandemic-related executive orders. It was nice to have a small gathering, nonetheless, after seven months, he said. In fact, “It was our first thing back that wasn’t a fire or a drill,” he said.
The Fire Department set up a couple of water stations along the route. Fire police personnel helped shut down major intersections.
McMahon said they did get some odd looks from people not used to seeing events because of the pandemic. “The idea was not to look like a protest,” he said. “It was pretty clear it was Fire Department related.” While pushing his daughter in the stroller, a few curious passersby asked him what was going on.