Coast run will recall bravery of 9/11 firefighter

Fifteen years ago this week, an off-duty New York City firefighter ran to the World Trade Center to help rescue people in the burning towers and perished.

On Saturday, the Coast will join cities worldwide honoring Stephen Siller with a Tunnel-to-Towers run and raise money for his foundation that helps others.

The run will be from Ocean Springs to Biloxi.

Margaritaville Resort Biloxi will host a pre-race event and then welcome the runners back for an after-party with fireworks, weather permitting.

Coast Transit Authority will shuttle participants from Margaritaville to the starting line at Fort Maurepas in Ocean Springs by 6 p.m.

Cono Caranna, spokesman for Margaritaville, said Blackwater Brass Band will set up at the starting line and be at the finish line when runners and walkers complete the 5K across the Biloxi Bay Bridge.

The band then will lead a second line, he said, up to the pool deck for the party. In case of rain, the festivities will be in the area underneath the resort.

Harrah’s Gulf Coast also will provide supplies for the celebration.

Admission to the after-party is $5 for those who don’t join the race and Caranna said all the proceeds go back to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

The foundation was created by the firefighter’s brothers and initially helped the families of those firefighters who died on 9/11. It now supports programs that honor first responders and Building for America’s Bravest program, which provides smart homes to U.S. military personnel injured while serving their country.

This is the second year Biloxi will host the run. Coast residents Justin and Bridget Lopez had joined the memorial run in New York, which retraces the footsteps of Siller, an off-duty fireman who ran with 60 pounds of gear on his back from the Battery Tunnel into the Trade Center Towers. He was the father of five.

The New York run, held every year since 2002, now has 40,000 participants.

“It’s bigger than the New York City Marathon,” said Thomas Burke, a firefighter with Squad 252 Brooklyn.

He and Dennis Ruckdeschel with FDNY 43 Truck were in South Mississippi to promote the race ahead of the 15th anniversary of 9/11.

“You don’t want to forget. People forget,” Ruckdeschel said.

One firehouse lost 19 men, Burke said.

“That’s 52 kids without daddies,” he said.

They and their fellow firefighters from the FDNY appreciated the volunteers from South Mississippi who came to help after 9/11, they said.

“When Katrina, happened we wanted to reciprocate,” Ruckdeschel said.

After bringing supplies to the Coast, their mission turned into a toy run and for seven years they provided 70,000 Christmas gifts to local children.

Registration for Tunnels to Towers is open to those ages 11 to 99 and costs $25, or $30 on race day.

Details: Biloxi@Tunnel2Towers.org