Five finish 2,757-mile route
PASADENA – Five New York City firefighters rode triumphantly up to Pasadena’s Old Firehouse on Sunday, the last stop of a cross-country bicycle tour that began Nov. 11 at the site of the World Trade Center.
A crowd of supporters, including firefighters from Pasadena and nearby towns, met the men under a bright blue sky with cheers and shouts of “F-D-N-Y! F-D-N-Y!” Children clamored for autographs.
The firefighters had just completed a 2,757-mile trek not to raise funds, but to express thanks to the nation for the support they say has overwhelmed them since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It was beautiful, overwhelming, great support from the country,” said one of the firefighters, Matt Hornung, 30, who was wearing bicycle shorts and a red plastic firefighter’s hat. “We intended on thanking people, and people came out and thanked us.”
Hornung and the other firefighters come from the East Village firehouse of Engine Co. Nine/Ladder Co. 33, a station less than a mile from the World Trade Center that lost 10 men on Sept 11. Pictures of the fallen were displayed on a poster as the cycling firefighters listened to speeches from local officials and a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
“To be able to meet them face to face and be part of it for a few hours, it’s a dream come true,” said Pasadena firefighter paramedic Jim Todd, 40, as he watched from the crowd. “They’re the true heroes.”
The firefighters pedaled down to Georgia from New York, then cut across the South to the West Coast, greeting well-wishers and sleeping in firehouses along the way.
They rode about 100 miles a day, trailed by a support van driven by a sixth firefighter.
“It’s been a very long trip, it’s been a great trip, and I wish it would not end,” said Dan “Pappy” Rowan, senior member of the firehouse and the bike tour’s mastermind. The other riders were Hornung, Sal Princiotta, Drew Robb and Gerard Dolan. Ralph Perricelli followed in the van.
After speeches in front of the Old Firehouse, the firefighters boarded an authentic, privately owned New York Fire Department firetruck which ferried them across the street to a park for more speeches and applause.
Elated onlookers snapped photos and asked the firefighters to sign their hats.
“We’re just so proud of them and we wanted to show them how proud we are,” said Pasadena resident Adrienne Wilson, who attended the big event with her daughter Elizabeth.
“We really admire these fellows, these guys and gals ... It was too good to miss,” said Terry Hartley, a 50-year-old high school librarian from Pasadena.
The firefighters carried mementos of their fallen co-workers, a golf tee from one, a shoelace from another.
“We have pictures of them. Of course we think about them all the time, every day,” Dolan said.
Bethel, Conn., bicycle manufacturer Cannondale supplied lightweight bikes, with red, white and blue paint. The men were flying back to New York on Monday using tickets donated by United Airlines.
Otherwise, the riders paid their own way, some using vacation days they hadn’t even earned yet.