MOORESVILLE When the call came for firefighters to respond to the World Trade Center fires caused by terrorists on Sept. 11, 200l, Stephen Siller had just finished his shift and was driving to Staten Island, N.Y., to meet his brothers for a round of golf.
Blocked by traffic as he headed toward the Twin Towers, Siller abandoned his pickup, strapped on 70 pounds of gear and ran the 3 miles to assist fellow members of his elite Squad 1.
Siller, 34, left behind five children – the oldest was 10 – when he and nearly 350 other firefighters died that day.
On Friday, his cousin, John Hodge of New York, was at Specialized Mobile Exhibits in Mooresville’s Talbert Pointe Business Park, where the nation’s first 9/11 Mobile Museum is about to be finished and soon tour the nation.
Kurt Gentry, SME executive vice president, designed the museum with the Siller family’s input, and SME owner Toby Robertson and staff are now finishing the museum’s construction at their company.
Hodge came up with the idea as a tribute to his cousin and all the other firefighters who died from the terrorist attack.
Hodge is director of operations of the N.Y.-based Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, founded by Stephen’s brother, Frank, and his other siblings. The foundation also hosts a benefit run each year that follows the route that Stephen ran to the towers. The event drew 35,000 runners and walkers from across the world last year and raises money to build smart homes across the U.S. for soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The centerpiece of the foundation’s 1,000-square-foot museum will be a piece of World Trade Center steel welded into the form of the Twin Towers, with a crucifix cut out of the steel. The sculpture includes one crucifix for each firefighter who perished from Truck 3. Wording at the base of the sculpture reads, “Truck 3, and we are still heading up.”
New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano asked the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to use the sculpture in the museum, foundation spokesperson Catherine Christman said.
The museum also features an audio recording of the last known transmission shortly before the South Tower collapsed, to Ladder Co. 15 from Fire Chief Orio Palmer on the 78th floor describing the two isolated pockets of fire in the South Tower that he encountered: “We should be able to knock it down with two lines (engines).”
Also included is a piece of aluminum façade from the World Trade Center and a small rendition of the bronze sculpture of Stephen Siller making his heroic run through the blocked-off Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center. The original sculpture is at the Fire Academy in New York City, where probationary firefighters are trained.
Museum visitors also will see a picture of Siller’s Squad 1 firetruck taken at ground zero. Twelve squad members were killed on 9/11. Admission is free.
Panels being built for the museum will be instrumental in teaching schoolchildren about 9/11, Hodge said. A 9/11 curriculum is being developed. “We are aware there’s a whole generation that wasn’t alive when 9/11 happened,” Hodge said.
The museum will rely entirely on donations as it tours the country, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, Hodge said. Other stops include the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Heinz Field on Sept. 8, an Atlanta Falcons home game on Sept. 15, and PNC Arena in Raleigh Sept. 17-21. The museum will then travel to New York and the Alamo Dome in San Antonio. Hodge said he hopes the museum will later visit Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Although boxes of tissues will be on hand, visitors will leave on an optimistic note, as videos will show the difference the foundation is making, Hodge said. His cousin was the greatest of optimists, so the videos are only fitting, he said.
Marusak: 704-987-3670; Twitter: @ jmarusak.
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