Anthony Austin was a firefighter working in the Bronx when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
He said fire commanders held his ladder company in reserve while other firefighters rushed to the scene. The next day, Austin was sent to Ground Zero, where he spent the following three months sifting through the rubble.
Austin and his wife, Lourdes, were among an estimated 2,600 motorcycle riders who stopped for about 2 1/2 hours Friday morning at Hagerstown Premium Outlets as part of America's 9/11 Ride.
The annual event is held, in part, to remember the people who lost their lives on that tragic day.
"The first couple of days we were trying to find a survivor or just a body to give a family a little closure," said Austin, who recently retired from the New York City Fire Department after 22 years of service. "If the alarm came in and you were working in Lower Manhattan, Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens, you were doomed. I've never been to that many funerals and wakes."
Event founder Ted Sjurseth said the inaugural ride was held Nov. 10, 2001, when a handful of riders traveled from the White House to Ground Zero to help boost the economy of New York City. Since then, the event has grown to more than 2,600 strong and spans four days.
He said riders represent 33 states, Australia and Canada.
"After we did it that first year, everyone said they wanted to do it," Sjurseth said.
Organizers charge each rider $120 to participate, he said. The cost increases $30 per passenger.
Sjurseth said part of the entry fee is used to pay for costs associated with the event, such as providing food and toilet facilities for the riders.
Some of the excess revenue goes toward establishing scholarships for the children of 9/11 first responders. Sjurseth said that to date, an estimated $180,000 has been raised to help send those children to school.
The ride also has produced $400,000 to assist fire and police departments in need, Sjurseth said. An additional $165,000 has been generated to buy motorcycles for police departments.
"Our goal is to raise $1 million to help the men and women who protect us all," Sjurseth said.
John Fitzgerald of Old Bridge, N.J., said he and about 20 riders departed the Garden State early Thursday morning and rode about eight hours to the crash site of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., where the procession started Friday morning.
"The ride is to remember the events and the people who died during 9/11," Fitzgerald said. "We can't forget about that ... 9/11 started our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq."
The riders began to arrive at Premium Outlets at about 11 a.m. Friday. A large American flag was waving from the ladder of a firetruck from the Volunteer Fire Co. of Halfway in the outlets parking lot.
The route of the procession was lined with dozens of people, many waving American flags as the riders passed.
At 11:20, some of the motorcyclists were refueling at the Exxon station on Sharpsburg Pike (Md. 65). Others were being directed into the parking lots at Premium Outlets for a prepared lunch that included turkey sandwiches, potato chips and sports drinks.
The riders left the outlets early Friday afternoon, riding on to Md. 65 to resume their journey on eastbound Interstate 70 to Frederick, Md. From there, they rode to the Pentagon.
On Saturday, the riders will travel to the World Trade Center site in New York City.