Firefighters' 9/11 memorial bike ride kicks off in LA

For six weeks, the group of firefighters dressed in white will ride for 3,308 miles, from fire station to fire station to reach NY

The Daily News of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES — The flame atop the Fallen Firefighters Memorial at Old Engine Co. No. 27 seemed as perfect a backdrop as any for the group of cyclists who set out early Sunday on a cross-country tour to honor their own.

For six weeks, this group of firefighters dressed in white will ride for 3,308 miles, from fire station to fire station through the heat and humidity of the Midwest and on to New York, just in time to commemorate the 10th anniversary of when terrorists attacked American on Sept. 11.

But along the way, a numerical figure and phrase will occupy their minds: 343. Never Forget.

"This ride started 10 years ago," said Los Angeles Firefighter Jorge Ostrovsky, 53, of Newbury Park. "When the towers got hit, we all got hit as Americans."

As part of the national "Ride for 9-11," Los Angeles city and county firefighers along with those from other Southern California stations voluntarily chose to ride cross-country to raise money for charity and to honor the 343 firefighters who died as they pulled victims out of the Twin Towers in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Thousands of men and women died that day and since — from other first-responders and civilians to members of the armed forces fighting in wars that began as a result of those attacks.

On Sunday morning, 10 firefighters lined their bikes at the Hollywood station, also known as the LAFD Historical Society Museum, where 19th century engines and apparatus remain preserved.

With the words "Courageously they died, by inspiration they live," inscribed on the Fallen Firefighters Memorial behind them, the firefighters joined their families and friends and prayed for safety.

The cycling team will be accompanied by a support staff, but the firefighters will have to crank pedals to complete 100 miles each day through some tough terrain and weather, said Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Mike Ketaily.

"They've got things coming up that's not in the playbook," Ketaily said of the conditions and emotions the cyclists will have to endure.

They'll make their way to, among many places, Joplin, Mo., Oklahoma City, Okla., and to Shanksville, Pa., where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field after it was hijacked as part of the coordinated attacks. They'll also visit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., where an airliner, also hijacked on Sept.11, crashed.

Funds raised from the ride will benefit the Leary Firefighters Foundation, which was created in 2000 by actor Denis Leary to help fire departments provide their men and women with top-notch equipment and technology.

Funds also will go toward the Wounded Warriors Project, which provides programs and services to severely injured service members as they transition into civilian life.

Los Angeles Firefighter Scott Hambly, 34, held on to his 1-year-old son Malloy just before riding off under the aerial ladders that had formed an arch above Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.

"As a dad, as a firefighter, I just think this is the best way for me to raise awareness," Hambly said.

His wife Casey Hambly, a history teacher in Agoura High School, tearfully cheered him.

"I think he's amazing," she said. "I'm so proud of him."

Across the city at Fire Station No. 89 in North Hollywood, another small team set out early in the morning for a similar ride.

Los Angeles Firefighter Jason Teter was joined by Volunteer Firefighter Chris Rupp, who rode in to Los Angeles from Wisconsin for Fire Ride: Tribute 2011. They too will pedal cross-country. They'll meet up with those from Ride for 9-11 in Chicago, before finishing together in New York City.

Teter said he chose to cycle across the country without a support staff. He hopes he can help rekindle the spirit of unity after the emerged after the attacks.

"For me, it'll be an honor to visit and stay at all the fire stations," said Teter, a 12 year veteran of the Fire Department. "The whole goal is to rejuvenate the spirit of the fire services."

In addition to the Leary Firefighters Foundation, and the Wounded Warriors Project, Teter and Rupp's ride will raise funds for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Like Teter, many firefighters felt the pull toward New York when the attacks occurred 10 years ago and they watched as those in their profession made the ultimate sacrifice to rescue others to safety.

"I can't do anything for the men and women who died that day, but I can do something today," Ostrovsky said. "These guys (today) are making a sacrifice, but not the sacrifice those guys made that day."

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