September 11. Since 2001, it’s a date that brings sadness and solemnity, mournfulness and reflection. But what do you do with those emotions year after year? In 2013, firefighter Tian Griffieth (now with the North Charleston Fire Department) and four colleagues decided to take action—to tangibly pay their respects to the 343 firefighters and nearly 3,000 others killed in the terrorist attacks by suiting up in 80 pounds of gear and trekking 5.4 miles across the Ravenel Bridge and back. Last September, 1,751 firefighters, first responders, and other citizens from across the country participated in the 9/11 Silent Walk, and this year the event will span an entire weekend. Griffieth, the executive director, fills us in.
CM: What’s the vibe like during the walk?
TG: People are talking, smiling, and laughing, but they are also extremely tired. It’s a high-endurance event, especially for those wearing gear. Last year we saw folks with shin splints and with feet that were bruised and rubbed raw, but there was no way they were going to quit. That’s America—we are resilient.
CM: How will this year’s event differ from past ones?
TG: We’re hosting classes the day before the walk. Two are free and open to the public: an active shooter class and a fire behavior class. Others are geared toward firefighters, and the money raised from those will go to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York.
CM: What inspired you to become a firefighter?
TG: I never had any intention of going into the fire service; my dream was to be an attorney. But on June 18, 2007, we tragically lost nine firefighters in the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire. For me, it created a sense of urgency to do something. I began volunteering on the Charleston County Rescue Squad and developed a passion for the job, for being available to help people on their worst days. I decided to make it my career.
CM: What’s something readers may not know about the fire service?
TG: Only 30 percent of firefighters in South Carolina get paid. Consider the fact that 70 percent of firefighters in the state are working for free. It’s a truly amazing thing. I don’t think there’s anybody in the fire department who doesn’t love their job.
Lives: In North Charleston with his wife, Eva (a patient care tech in the trauma unit at MUSC); daughter, Myla (six); and sons, Tian Jr. (10) and Christian (eight)
Recharges: By hitting the beach with his family and dining out with Eva: “I think about 30 percent of what we make salary-wise goes into the food industry,” he laughs.
Event info: Classes are held throughout September 10. On September 11, the Silent Walk starts at 7:45 a.m.; find “9/11 Remembrance Weekend Training Day & Silent Walk” on www.eventbrite.com.