All the Prince William County firefighters could think about as they retraced the steps of a fallen New York firefighter from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the former site of the World Trade Center was: How could he run three miles with 40 pounds of work gear strapped to his back?
Stephen Siller, 34, was heading home from work the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and felt so compelled to save lives that he abandoned his car in clogged traffic at the tunnel's entrance and ran all the way to the World Trade Center. The father of five made it to the Twin Towers and perished soon after.
Last month, the three Prince William firefighters -- wearing tank tops, shorts and sneakers -- retraced Siller's steps in the "Tunnel to Towers" race. And they won, beating 342 other teams from around the world. Their prize: a $10,000 check they could donate to the burn center of their choice.
Yesterday, at a ceremony at a Prince William Board of County Supervisors meeting, firefighters Chad Briggs, 32, and Andrew Knick, 24, both of Bristow, and David Rossi, 24, of Arlington presented their check to the burn center at Washington Hospital Center.
"There I was in a track outfit, and he did it in his full gear and his fire boots, weaving between cars," said Briggs, who joined the fire department after the Sept. 11 attacks and is assigned to a fire station near Manassas. "It made me feel like I had no right to be tired and that something good can come out of this tragedy."
Briggs, Rossi and Knick placed fourth, ninth and 11th, respectively, out of more than 8,000 participants from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries. The three men had the fastest average time -- 18:16 minutes, according to the Web site for the Stephen Siller, FDNY, Let Us Do Good Children's Foundation.
Kathleen Hollowed, the burn center's outreach education coordinator, accepted the check yesterday from the foundation. She said the money will go toward the purchase of treadmills and bikes for the center's rehabilitation room; machines that simulate driving, writing with a pen or opening a can; and a $27,000 portable shower tub that makes it easier for hospital staff to bathe a patient.
"We'd be waiting for someone to come through with a grant if we didn't get this," said Hollowed, who was "totally stunned" when one of the firefighters called her after the race -- and out of the blue -- to let her know they were going to give hospital officials the money.
Knick, who is assigned to a fire station in Gainesville, was a senior at Virginia Tech on Sept. 11, 2001, and, like many people, spent much of that day glued to the television. After graduating in 2002, Knick fought fires for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado before moving back to Virginia, where he landed a job with the Prince William department.
Rossi was also in college that day, a senior at the Virginia Military Institute when someone came in to his health class and said New York was under attack. He remembers watching his roommates, both from New York, frantically trying to reach relatives. After a little less than two years with the department, Rossi is resigning this week and will begin fighting fires in Iraq for a government contractor.
Briggs was working that day at a Pennsylvania steel mill that made bomb casings. The attacks triggered increased security at the mill, and Briggs helped oversee the plant while shifts increased from eight- to 12-hour days. After the plant shut down and he lost his job, Briggs, who had been a volunteer firefighter, saw a newspaper ad for a career job in Prince William and was hired.
Frank Siller, 51, said yesterday that he knows his brother would be pleased that the family has turned something bad into good. "I know he is happy that we're not giving in to the pain over the loss of him," he said.