Honoring and Remembering: NYC firefighters tell the story of 9/11 at State Fair exhibit

Eloise Ogden/MDN John Martorana, left, a battalion chief with the New York City Fire Department, and Ed Breen, a retired NYC firefighter, are shown by the 9/11 NEVER FORGET mobile exhibit at the North Dakota State Fair. They are among four NYC firefighters volunteering their time to tell about the events of that tragic day.

When State Fairgoers visit the 9/11 NEVER FORGET Mobile Exhibit they’ll have the opportunity to visit with active and retired New York City firefighters.

Numerous NYC firefighters volunteer their time to the exhibit and its stops across the country.

The exhibit, a tribute to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, is done to educate people throughout the country about the events of that tragic day.

John Martorana, a battalion chief with the New York City Fire Department, and Ed Breen, a retired NYC firefighter, are among the four firefighters at the mobile exhibit’s State Fair visit through Saturday.

“People here are great and we’re having a wonderful time,” said Breen, prior to the morning opening of the mobile exhibit at the State Fair earlier this week.

Ronaldo Roblado and Charles Gussman, both retired NYC firefighters, are also with the exhibit at the fair along with others affiliated with the mobile exhibit.

The mobile exhibit has traveled to 32 states and Canada and 250,000 people have seen the mobile exhibit between 2013 and 2017.

Both Martorana and Breen said the memorial, containing stories and artifacts pertaining to 9/11, is very well received in its travels across the country. Only small changes have been made to the mobile exhibit during its existence since 2013.

Breen and Martorana were both active firefighters on Sept. 11, 2001, the day the planes hit the World Trade Center in NYC. Both were not working that day but when they learned of the occurrences, went to their firehouses in Brooklyn and picked up their gear. They tell visitors to the mobile exhibit their story on the day of 9/11 and the aftermath.

The 9/11 mobile exhibit is a program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named for Stephen Siller, also a NYC firefighter, and set up by his family.

Siller had just got off work on 9/11 and heard on the radio about the Twin Towers, Martorana said.

Siller went back to his firehouse, also in Brooklyn, to pick up his gear and drove to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel which connects Brooklyn to lower Manhatten. He strapped on his 60 pounds of gear and ran through the tunnel to the towers. When the towers came down he lost his life helping others.

Siller’s family set up the foundation to keep his memory alive and do good for the community, Martorana said.

A Tunnel to Towers Run was started in 2002 with about 2,500 runners and now it has about 35,000 people participating, along with runs conducted around the country.

Martorana said the money raised from the initial run helped establish an orphanage on Staten Island, New York. Siller’s parents died when he was young and he was raised by his older siblings.

“As the foundation grew in size they were able to do more and more and more,” Martorana said.

Another program of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation is the Smart Home Program, a program that builds smart homes or homes with special features to make the lives easier for severely injured military service members. Homes have been built across the country through the Smart Home Program.

Breen and Martorana said the homes are built wherever they are needed and sponsors are teamed up with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation as they “build for America’s greatest.”

Numerous NYC firefighters volunteer their time to the 9/11 mobile exhibit and its stops across the country along with the Smart Home Program and other Foundation programs.

“It’s a privilege and honor for us to be part of it,” Breen said.

“Stephen was one of our own and the foundation is growing and it’s doing a lot of good,” Martorana added. He said it was not a difficult decision to become involved.

The 9/11 NEVER FORGET mobile exhibit is open at the State Fair from noon to 7 p.m. daily through Saturday. It is located at the north end of the fairgrounds near the State Fair Center, next to a Ryan Nissan vehicle display, a sponsor of the exhibit. There is no additional charge for State Fairgoers to see the exhibit.

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