Firefighter Dan Rowan of Ladder 9, Engine 33 in Lower Manhattan, a company that lost ten men on September 11, organized a cycle tour across America to say thank you to the nation for the outpouring of emotional and financial support he and other firefighters and police officers received in the wake of the attacks. Five colleagues from his firehouse — Ralph Perricelli, Drew Robb, Matthew Hornung, Salvatore Princiotta and Gerard Dolan — participated in the cycle with Rowan, which they dedicated to their fallen brothers.
At 8:48 a.m. on November 11, exactly two months after the terrorist attacks, the six cyclists left their firehouse. They arrived in Pasadena, California, 35 and 1/2 days later, having cycled through the southern states of the U.S. They stopped off en route at the Pentagon, scene of the second terrorist attack, and at Oklahoma City, site of the 1995 bomb blast. Though the tour ended up raising more than $100,000 for charity, it was not conceived as a money-raising venture but strictly as a thank you to the nation for the support people had given New York in the aftermath of September 11. “I wanted to give back to a nation that had given so much to the police and fire departments,” Rowan said. “So many people had given both emotional support and money. One homeless guy gave me $1.22 — it was all the money he had. Little kids gave me their lemonade money — they really moved me. The people who came to our funerals from all across the country — they made it great for us. We touched them and they touched us. I just wanted to give something back.”
Rowan has fond memories of the hospitality and support they received from people along the cycle route. “Some places really stand out and some people — like a little girl called Susie in Lake Havasu, Arizona, just really get to you. Chillhowie, in Virginia is such a small place and yet everybody must have come out to cheer us on. Every time we got support, we got an emotional boost.” The return airfares of the firefighters and the Cannondale bicycles they used were donated, but otherwise the men paid their own expenses and used their own vacation time to make the trip. Cannondale Bicycles designed a special Stars and Stripes bicycle for them and pledged to donate $50 to the Police and Fire Widows and Childrens Fund for each bicycle of that design sold. So far, they have presented Rowan with a check for $43,000, which he has passed on to the Fund.
Rowan believes that the trip has helped in his own recovery process. He was off-duty on September 11th and arrived at Ground Zero shortly after both towers had fallen. At that point, his ten colleagues were already lost. “Every time we hit a roadblock in our cycle, I thought of them. I carried pictures of them in my mind. It helps to feel we were doing something to honor them.”
He says that morale in the firehouse is getting better now that the bodies of their colleagues are being discovered. “We are waiting for the last four, but we’ re happier now that we’ re starting to find our men. We buried Lieutenant Kevin Pfeiffer last week. His mother, Helen, gave me his St. Florian’s medal (the patron saint of firefighters) for me to keep.”
Dan Rowan lives with his wife and two daughters in Massapequa Park, New York. ♦