By RICK CURL
Of The Record Staff
The fall of the World Trade Center towers is something that will never be forgotten — especially by Johnston County resident Christine Livingston.
Mrs. Livingston knew firsthand the tragedy left behind that day. She lost four high school classmates in the collapse — and several more in the aftermath due to working at ground zero cleaning up debris.
“As long as I can tell the story for my friends who perished that day, and who are still dying, I have so many classmates that were first responders who are still dying up there,” she said. “As long as I can keep 9/11 in the hearts of people, that’s all I want.”
She has taken that sorrow and grief and turned it into something more. Something useful. She formed the Never Forget 9-11 Foundation. Because of the efforts put forth by her and other volunteers, several good things are happening.
Tunnel To Towers Run
First and foremost, the organization makes it possible for first responders and military to go to New York City for the annual Tunnel to Towers Run.
It’s an event organized to honor one of the men who gave his life in the towers.
Mrs. Livingston doesn’t hesitate to become emotional when she tells the story of firefighter Stephen Siller, who, after being unable to get to the towers by vehicle, abandoned his truck at the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
When New York City officials closed all the tunnels in the aftermath of the airplane strikes on the towers, Mr. Siller donned the 50-pound air pack and firefighting gear, then ran the 2 miles of the tunnel and another mile and a half to the towers to join his brethren. He was inside when the towers fell.
“He had left work to go play with his brothers when the call came out,” Mrs. Livingston, a Long Island, New York, native, said. “He turned around and went back to his vehicle, drove to his station house and put his gear in the back of his truck.”
Now his legacy is honored annually by the Tunnel to Towers Run, which recreates his path from the tunnel to where his life ended and thanks to Mrs. Livingston and the foundation, area firefighters and other first responders, as well as military, can now take part in the race.
They also get a free admission to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and are invited guests to a special dinner, it’s all a part of the program she calls NC to NYC.
The organization funds 25 participants and allows friends or family members to come along — at their own expense — to share the experience. Now the group is preparing for the 2018 race, which takes place the last weekend in September annually.
“We run from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and we run through it,” Mrs. Livingston said. “Then when you come out from the tunnel the first thing you see are 343 firefighters lined up in dress blues. They have the names of every firefighter that was killed in 9/11.”
Helping Furry Officers
Another mission of the group is to make sure an often overlooked member of the first responder community gets some needed equipment. The efforts of the organization raise money and purchase vests, buddy packs and other items for K-9 officers.
The goal of the group is to eventually make sure all the K-9 officers in North Carolina receive the needed equipment.
The group brings a traveling museum honoring 9/11 to various events and, through the cooperation of several law enforcement agencies, including area sheriff’s offices, it offers a demonstration to the public on how the K-9 officers perform their jobs.
Members have already cast a wide swath of deliveries, handing items to K-9 officers in several sheriff and police departments across Johnston, Nash and Wake counties.
“The reason we raise the funds for the vests and the buddy bags is because those are considered special ops equipment, which the government does not cover,” Jane Morris, the group’s media coordinator, said. “So for us it’s like putting an officer out on the street without their equipment.”
The ultimate goal of that facet of the program is to provide the special equipment — including Hot-n-Pops, which are devices that allow officers to open doors to their patrol cars remotely to allow the dogs out and to provide them relief by opening windows and doors when the heat in patrol cars exceed dangerous levels — to K-9 officers throughout North Carolina.
“Our long-term goal is to make sure all the K-9s across North Carolina have the ballistic vests, the buddy bags and hopefully the Hot-n-Pops,” Ms. Morris said. “It’s all about the safety of the K-9s as well.”
The work for the foundation doesn’t stop there, it also provides a $750 scholarship to a student who is the child of a first responder.
“We provide one scholarship to a rising high school senior who writes an essay based on being the child of a first responder and what it means to them,” Mrs. Livingston said. The program is slowly making its way across the area as many high schools are unfamiliar with the scholarship. She and Ms. Morris both hope to someday see the scholarship competition open to more high schools.
“We have went to the Johnston County Board of Education and we hope to see it expand next year,” Ms. Livingston said.
For more information on the foundation, or to get involved personally, contact Ms. Livingston at 919-524-1935 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the website neverforget9-11.com.