NEW YORK - The New York locals of the Fire Fighters, who lost 343 members and their priest to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York, will commemorate their fallen colleagues with a 343-mile memorial bicycle ride from the eastern end of Long Island, through the World Trade Center site, culminating at the Pentagon just outside Washington, scene of the other terrorist attack that day ten years ago.
The 5-day ride, organized by IAFF Locals 94 and 354, is to ensure "we will never forget the efforts of the fallen," said Local 354 President Al Hagan when he announced it earlier this year. Local 94 President Steve Cassidy notes that members of the two locals are still dying from the aftereffects of exposure to toxic gases, particulates and asbestos from the attacks. At least 24 have died in the ensuing decade.
The bicycle ride is just one of several observances unionists plan to mark on the 10th anniversary of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks. The attackers commandeered four airliners and crashed two of them into the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, destroying the Twin Towers. Another airliner smashed into the Pentagon, while the fourth crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania after passengers fought the terrorists.
Other observances include a service at the New York Firefighters Memorial monument on the upper West Side and a memorial mass at the city's cathedral.
New York will also dedicate a memorial to the attack's victims, with all known names listed, on part of the site of the World Trade Center. The Fire Fighters will be listed with their colleagues, followed by the names of the other victims, in random order.
Of the more than 2,800 people the terrorists killed, 636 were union members, from more than a dozen unions. Most were the New York Fire Fighters who rushed into the Twin Towers to try to save people as the buildings burned and then collapsed.
Local 854 member Mike Alexander came up with the bicycle ride idea, "but as I spoke with a couple of the guys, there was a lot of interest. People wanted to join me in remembering the fallen," he told his local union's website.
Proceeds from the memorial bicycle ride will help support severely injured veterans of the subsequent Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The al-Qaida attack prompted the Bush administration to retaliate against the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which had given safe haven and support to the terrorist organization. Bush later invaded Iraq, claiming - falsely - an al-Qaida connection, among other reasons.
"We see all these people coming home who gave up a lot for our sake. They are great people who put a lot on the line to protect the country. Personally I feel it is our responsibility to support them when they are away and when they get home. And even though it's been 10 years since 9/11, it's not over for the families who have been affected. We wanted to do something to let them know we haven't forgotten," said Alexander.
Cassidy pointed out, in his union's publication, the latest medical study of the aftereffects of the attacks: Increased cancer mortality among Fire Fighters exposed to the toxic gases, asbestos, jet fuel and particulates from the collapse of the Twin Towers - among a group of workers who, as control groups show, have lower-than-usual cancer mortality rates, due to their physical fitness.
Photo: PW's flickr account.