Remembering 9/11

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 28, 2010

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE – Although a number of fire response vehicles with lights flashing could be seen making their way down Airline Highway through the River Parishes Thursday, there were no flames to douse. In fact, one might say their purpose was to spark a fire.

The vehicles were accompanying a group of 36 firefighters and other emergency responders from both the U.S. and Australia as they run from Anaheim, Calif., to New York City in remembrance of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorist attacks rocked New York and the rest of the nation.

“What I am is insignificant compared to the cause of what we’re doing,” said John Melia of the North Las Vegas Fire Department, who explained that each mile they run on their 4,600 mile journey is dedicated to a victim of 9-11.

“Those are the people we’re doing this for,” he said.

The group started in California on Aug. 12 and plans to reach New York on Sept. 11, in time for the ninth anniversary of the attacks.

The group consists of three teams — red, white and blue — that each run for six hours at a time, and although it may seem counterintuitive, those involved say it is the 12 hours between runs that are most taxing.

“The running is very relaxing. It’s definitely the easy part,” said Melia.

The red, white and blue colors of the teams commemorate not only the national colors of the United States but also the colors of the flag of its partner in the project.

Despite Australia’s physical distance from the U.S., Australian firefighter Bradley Hoskins explained his country’s involvement.

“There’s no delineation when it comes to firefighters,” he said, adding, “Australian and American friendship goes way back.”

Although most of the runners are firefighters, there were two police officers among their ranks, Rob Wills of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Dan Steffens of the Port Authority Police Department, which has the World Trade Center site in New York as part of its juridiction.

“We lost 37 officers that day,” said Steffens, who noted that was the largest number lost by any single department on 9-11.

Steffens said people can follow the group’s progress at The website contains profiles of each of the runners, photo and video galleries and live GPS tracking. People can also donate to the cause at the website. Among the charities benefitting from the group’s efforts are the Tribute WTC Visitor Center, the National Sptember 11 Memorial and Museum, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

“I’m really honored to be a part of this,” said Steffens.