Jeremy Walters ’27 Aspires to Help Others as a Firefighter
by Dan Hickey ’04 | Director of Communications
On September 11, 2001, firefighter Stephen Siller was on his way home from a shift when a plane collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Upon hearing the news over his scanner, Siller rejoined his FDNY Squad 1 men and raced to Lower Manhattan. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was already closed by the time their truck got to the entrance, so he ran on foot past the hundreds of people fleeing the smoking tower and joined hundreds of other FDNY firefighters, including the 343 who gave their lives that day. In 2002, his family established the Tunnel to Towers 5K to symbolically honor Siller’s steps that day as well as remember the sacrifice and courage of so many in the face of great tragedy.
On Sunday, thousands of runners turned out for the 21st Annual event, among them our Jeremy Walters ’27. For as long as he can remember, the eighth-grader has wanted to be a firefighter. His uncle and father both volunteered in the Setauket Fire Department, where he has been a junior firefighter for the last three years. He rattles off the next steps of his career path with an ease and assurance that belies his 13 years: at 18-years-old he can join the Setauket squad as a firefighter and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) worker and at 21 he is able to enter the FDNY as a paid firefighter. Until those next milestones, he will continue doing trainings each month at the Setauket station, joining the Saturday morning duty crew, and sneaking onto the truck for as many calls as possible.
His conviction for fighting fires comes from a few places. “It’s rewarding,” he says. “I like helping people.” Watching his father, David, aiding people in their moment of greatest need also seared into him the impact firemen can have on their communities. Being around the firefighter community has also given him an understanding and appreciation of that watershed day in September, despite the fact that he was born nearly eight years later. That wisdom was also garnered through his attendance at 9/11 ceremonies at the Setauket FD memorial over the years, cementing in his mind the impact of those men and women.
Running the Tunnel to Towers race was on Jeremy’s to-do list as a way to honor his brethren who made the ultimate sacrifice 21 years ago. So, donning his Setauket FD jacket and helmet, he retraced the steps of Stephen Siller and so many other heroes last Sunday. “The most difficult part came when the tunnel starts to go uphill,” Jeremy recalled. “It was hot, and there were so many people in the tunnel. I would have stopped if I was by myself, but so many civilians, soldiers, EMTs, NYPD, and FDNY lining the course and cheering pushed me to keep going.” Despite the additional 25 pounds of weight from his gear, Jeremy completed the trek in 39:52. He plans on breaking the time next year.
While he waits for the next steps of his firefighting journey, he is content listening for calls on the radio–“I have a lot of radios,” he says with pride–staying connected on his various firefighter group chats, and photographing the first responders at blazes. He hopes the images from his vantage point can be used in future training to help firemen do their jobs better and safer.
Despite his youth, Jeremy is already living out a Franciscan proverb that fueled Stephen Siller in his work and life: “While we have time, let us do good.”