NYC Firefighters Finish Cross-Country Ride


PASADENA -- Lights flashing, a phalanx of more than 20 firetrucks rumbled down Colorado Boulevard Sunday, slowly pacing six New York firefighters on the last leg of their cross-country bike tour.

A crush of supporters surrounded the five cyclists and their support driver as the crew coasted to a finish at a historic firehouse on Dayton Street near Central Park.

The five-week tour was overwhelming, said rider Sal Princiotta, 38, as he was surrounded by well-wishers offering congratulations and thanks.

"We've had great support from the country," said Princiotta, who still has bulging biceps (with a "Mom" tattoo on the left) after the 2,757-mile odyssey.

Among the awards and accolades heaped on the firefighters was a personal memento from John Luna, a Los Angeles County Fire Department engineer in Palmdale. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Luna, 32, ordered specialized license plates for his truck reading "XFDNYX." He handed one over to the firefighters Sunday.

Dressed in an "FDNY" T-shirt, Luna smiled widely when Princiotta later flashed the plate on stage.

"They're out there every day taking care of us, and we need to take care of them," Luna said.

Pasadena firefighters planned a huge potluck for the riders and their families at Station 37 on Foothill Boulevard, where the six spent the night Sunday.

"It's nice to support these guys, to bring something positive back to it. It's kind of closure for them," said Pasadena fire Capt. Scott Dandridge.

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan biked with the procession for the five-mile trek down Colorado Boulevard. Their escorts included fire companies from surrounding cities such as South Pasadena and Sierra Madre and more distant towns including West Covina, La Verne and Burbank -- even three firefighter cyclists from Houston.

"This is the most firetrucks we've seen!" said an excited Caitlin Rowan, 12, daughter of tour organizer Dan "Pappy" Rowan.

The ride across America was sparked by Rowan, a 45-year-old firefighter, who, like many, felt the need to "do something" after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The six cyclists -- Rowan, Princiotta, Drew Robb, Gerard Dolan, Mac Hornug and Ralph Perricelli -- are from Ladder Co. 9 and Engine Co. 33 in New York, a station less than a mile from the World Trade Center, which lost 10 men when the towers collapsed. Their ride was not a fund-raiser, but a thank-you to everyone who sent donations and appreciation to New York firefighters after the attacks.

During the welcoming ceremony for the group, as a local chaplain led a prayer for those killed Sept. 11, Rowan wiped away tears and looked at the sky, a shaft of sunlight illuminating his face. Then he smiled, as if sending a private thank-you to his fallen comrades.

AP Photo (below)
Fire Department of New York firefighter Dan Rowan, is greeted by his wife, Georgine, after he and five fellow firefighters ended their month-long bicycle journey across America.