Los Angeles Fire Department Firefighter Jason Teter was working a shift on the day that two planes were flown into the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Much like the rest of the country and throughout the world, Teter watched the horror unfold on television after planes hijacked by terrorists also crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and in Shanksville, Pa. on Sept. 11, 2001.
As a viewer trained for emergencies, Teter felt somewhat powerless knowing that fellow service members who were also on call that day across the country were responding to the attacks, which ultimately claimed nearly 3,000 lives, including 343 firefighters.
“That event was very lifechanging for me,” said Teter, recalling being at work at a North Hollywood station when the attacks took place.
“For a fireman to see that happen on TV, you get kind of a helpless feeling. It really put into perspective what our job is all about.”
When firefighters swear in to join the service they are taking an oath to protect people’s lives and property, said Teter, 39, who has worked out of Fire Station 5 in Westchester for two years. The firefighters, police officers and emergency responders who rose to the occasion in the face of chaos on Sept. 11 demonstrated that willingness to risk their lives to help others, Teter said.
“The thing about 9/11 is that those (service members) were sworn to protect life and property, and they gave the ultimate sacrifice to do that,” said Teter, a Huntington Beach resident who served with the Los Angeles Police Department prior to joining LAFD.
As the 10-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil soon approaches, Teter will embark on a major physical feat as a way to honor the sacrifice of the lives lost on Sept. 11, as well as the U.S. military members who have died in the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 12-year LAFD veteran will join a volunteer firefighter from Wisconsin, Chris Rupp, later this month for the Fire Ride: Tribute 2011, a cross-country bicycle ride spanning more than 3,300 miles from Los Angeles to New York, expected to conclude just a day before the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The ride, which will begin from LAFD Station 75 in Mission Hills Sunday, July 24, will coincide with another cross-country ride from Los Angeles involving firefighters, the Ride for 9/11, also anticipated to arrive in time for the anniversary commemoration.
Ten Los Angeles firefighters will begin the Ride for 9/11 trek from Station 27 in Hollywood and will be joined along the way by other riders in an effort to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project and the Leary Firefighter Foundation. The Wounded Warrior Project is dedicated to helping injured service members returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, while the Leary Firefighter Foundation, founded by actor Denis Leary, works to provide equipment and training to firefighters across the U.S.
Teter and Rupp, who also hope to have cyclists ride along with them, will stay at fire stations in cities they stop in overnight but will ride without the support of trailers, carrying all of their gear with them. While they will not be collecting money on behalf of charities like the Ride for 9/11, the Fire Ride participants hope to raise awareness and support for the Wounded Warrior Project and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Teter sees the coast-to-coast journey as an effort to not only honor those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent wars, but to pay tribute to fire service and the individuals that represented it proudly on that tragic day. Sept. 11 was a career- and life-changing event for anyone in fire service, he believes.
“It’s to honor not just the loss of those guys but the spirit of those guys and remember what they did. It’s not just to focus on their deaths but on what got them there – the spirit of fire service,” Teter said.
“We want to try to remind everyone what the fire service is all about and the unity of fire service.”
Rupp, 23, who also works as an emergency medical technician in a suburb of Madison, Wis., said a main reason he joined the fire service was 9/11. He called fire service a unique family, explaining how fire stations across the country have gladly offered support to the ride.
“The fire service is a family, and on Sept. 11 that’s when everybody got to see it,” said Rupp, who will kick off the Fire Ride: Tribute 2011 from San Francisco July 18 before joining up with Teter in Los Angeles.
Rupp said he initiated the tribute ride as a means to give back to the community and to reinvigorate the spirit of service that many Americans expressed after the terrorist attacks a decade ago. He spoke of the symbolic significance of beginning and ending the trek in two iconic American cities, San Francisco and New York.
Rupp said Teter is the only rider who is expected to spend more than two days with him on the cross-country route and he is pleased to have the company of a fellow firefighter for the epic trip.
“I’m thrilled to have him come along from L.A. to New York; it will be nice to have someone else there and will help make the time feel a little shorter,” Rupp said of Teter. “He seems to have a lot of energy and passion.”
Teter noted that some of his friends and colleagues have been a little surprised that he has chosen such a big undertaking to honor the memory of 9/11. But he has also received a great deal of support from firefighters, most of whom have been impacted by 9/11 “in one way or another,” he says.
Some colleagues have offered to fill in for Teter on the days he must take off, and although his wife – who recently got a nursing job – will not be able to be with him on the ride, she and her sisters plan to welcome him upon his arrival in New York.
Though he admits that the hot summer temperatures in parts of the country do not make for an ideal time of year for such a long ride, he said the timing will be perfect because it allows them to arrive in time for the anniversary.
Teter is accustomed to endurance sports, as someone who has completed three marathons, several triathlons and climbed some of the highest mountains on the West Coast. He has been riding about 230 miles per week during training, but acknowledges that he has never tackled a feat of this caliber before and remains open-minded about the expectations.
“I’m super excited about it,” he said. “I expect it to be a huge adventure.”
Referring to the many changes that the country has seen in the decade since 9/11, Teter noted he has also experienced a number of changes in his life over that time and believes the ride can be a “healing event for me in a lot of different ways.”
“For me, it’s almost like a recovery ride both personally and throughout my career,” he said.
In addition to having the chance to meet a lot of new people, make new friends at other fire stations, and see new parts of the country from a bicycle, Teter said the journey will enable him to recognize the magnitude of 9/11 and those who answered the call of duty.
“It will give me the opportunity to really reflect on what that whole event meant to me and what it means to be a fireman,” he said.