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Firefighters ride to remember heroes

Mark J. Wasinski has this 'Guardian Bell' his motorcycle his garage Alsip IL Wednesday September 7 2011. He is riding

Mark J. Wasinski has this "Guardian Bell" on his motorcycle at his garage in Alsip, IL on Wednesday September 7, 2011. He is riding this bike to New York. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 9, 2012 9:47AM

At the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it was “next to impossible” for Chicago firefighter Mark Wasinski to get off work and go to New York to help, he said.

But 10 years later, Wasinski feels compelled to go. He’ll be one of several Chicago firefighters making a trip to New York by motorcycle this week to honor those whose lives have been affected by the 9/11 attacks.

“It’s very important not to forget these individuals,” Wasinski said of his reason for going for the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday.

Wasinski, of Chicago’s Mount Greenwood community, is to leave Thursday and will be traveling in patriotic style on his blue Harley-Davidson. He recently repainted the bike and has a rear storage box decorated in a Sept. 11 theme.

Wasinski said other Chicago firefighters already have left.

“We are going to shadow their ride but a day behind,” he said, adding that he, his wife Lisa and five others will make the trip together.

Their first stop is near Shanksville, Pa., where Flight 93 crashed after passengers, knowing their likely fate, disrupted the terrorists who had taken over the plane rather than let them use it as a missile to kill more people.

Wasinski said they want to pay tribute to the Americans who were on that flight.

“You got to tip your hats toward individuals like that,” he said, calling them the “first line of defense.”

“They basically rolled up their sleeves and said, ‘We are not going to take this any more,’ ” he said.

On Saturday, the motorcyclists are to meet up at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Hope, N.J., to participate in the annual 9/11 Memorial Run. On Sunday, the bikers will be escorted into New York City by law enforcement agencies from New York and New Jersey.

“I am a fireman and there is a sense of self pride in what these guys were able to do,” Wasinski said.

“It’s not a selfish job,” he said of being a firefighter.

Wasinski has been a firefighter for almost 24 years, joining the department in May 1988. He said the hardest part is time spent away from family.

“Everyone has to give up something,” he said, noting the family gatherings and holidays missed over the years. “The individuals I have been able to work with are not selfish; they are individuals that I can count on. It’s different from most employers where you punch in at 9 and go home at 5. I live with these guys, I eat with these guys. They are like a second family.”

Wasinski also is a former Marine.

“It sort of set the course for the rest of my life,” he said of his service.

Wasinski said he joined the Marines right out of high school in 1981.

“If it wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would be on the fire department,” he said. “It brought in discipline. It certainly set the tone for the rest of my life. I like what I do.”

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