Film memorializes late New York firefighter and race held in his honor

Courtesy photo Frederick-based 3 Roads Communications put a GoPro camera on Cian Hanrahan, a runner in the Tunnel to Towers 5K race on Sept. 28. 3 Roads was a presence at the New York race this year, updating a 2005 documentary on the race. The 2005 documentary has been shown nationwide.

More than 13 years after his death, Stephen Siller is still remembered and still continues to have an impact, including in a film from a Frederick-based company. 

The Brooklyn-based New York firefighter was killed on Sept. 11, 2001, a day when he was not supposed to be on duty. He had worked an overnight shift and was driving to play golf with his brothers when he heard on his scanner that the first plane hit the Twin Towers.

He turned his car around and drove back toward the city, according to his cousin, filmmaker Russ Hodge of Frederick. As he drove back, Siller called his wife, Sally, and asked her to call his brothers to say he would catch up with them later.

That was the last Sally heard from her husband. Hodge said he learned from numerous rescue workers that Siller, who was 34, parked his car near the congested Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. He put on his equipment and ran through the 1.8-mile tunnel, which ends right outside the Twin Towers.

Hodge thinks that Siller was in the South Tower for only 10 to 15 minutes before it collapsed.

"It was agony," Hodge said of the waiting process to see if Siller had somehow survived.

Family members thought if there was anyone to somehow find an air pocket to hide out in, it would be Siller.

This wasn't the case.

Siller was survived by his wife, five children and six siblings who raised him after the deaths of their parents when Siller was a young boy.

"Stephen was a common rallying point for them after their parents died," Hodge said.

Not long after Siller's death, his siblings, widow and fellow firemen felt they needed to do something to give their pain and anger some meaning. They remembered about hearing how Siller ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to get to the towers, so they had the idea to make that the premise for a race.

This initially seemed like a daunting task, Hodge said, adding that they needed to go through numerous city departments to get permission to close off the bridge. Though the family was not politically connected, Hodge said everything came together quickly.

"You can't get New Yorkers to come together to put a topping on a pizza, but they all got together to make this happen," he said.

The first Tunnel to Towers 5K was held in 2002 and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation was formed as a result. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani is its chairman.

The 5K race has raised more than $40 million in the past 13 years, with most of its proceeds going to the organization Building for America's Bravest. The organization builds custom-designed homes for catastrophically injured American service members.

The race has also raised money for Sept. 11 widows/widowers and children, as well as Hurricane Sandy victims, Hodge said. This year's race, on Sept. 28, had more than 30,000 runners.

Hodge and his company, 3 Roads Communications, have also gotten involved. In 2005 they filmed a documentary "For The Love of Their Brother," which highlights Siller and his family's initiatives to keep his memory alive. The documentary features interviews not only with family members, but also Giuliani and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

The initial 30-minute version of the documentary was distributed nationally on PBS.

"In September they'd run the hell out of it," said Cynthia Scott, the CEO of 3 Roads and Hodge's wife.

Parts of the documentary were also shown on "Oprah," "CBS Sunday Morning," MSNBC and "Hardball" with Chris Matthews.

In the past year the film has been updated to include more information about how the race proceeds have been used and additional interviews, including one with Sally Siller, who was initially unable to speak, Hodge said. The updated version of the film is being done in high definition, according to Hodge, who said the goal is to air it next September.

The film has been used by the foundation to bring in donations, and Hodge said it is also a testimony that grieving doesn't just mean falling into a black hole.

"If it were up to me, every grief counselor in the world would have this film," Hodge said. "It shows how you can turn something evil into something good."

Follow Laura Dukes on Twitter: @LauraDukesFNP

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