Oct 5, 2021
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NYRA Cares: Belmont Park to Resume Annual Tribute to FDNY Firefighters Lost on 9/11

by NYRA Press Office

  • Belmont Park to Resume Annual Tribute to FDNY Firefighters Lost on 9/11
  • Five Furlongs with... Evan Peet
  • Expanding Educational Access for Backstretch Workers 
  • A Helping Hand

From air shows to rock concerts, Belmont Park has hosted a wide variety of non-racing events in its more than 115 years.

But none of those events are more important than the hundreds of firefighters, their families and others who have gathered at Belmont Park in recent years to climb the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs from the World Trade Center, where 343 FDNY firefighters perished on Sept. 11, 2001.

After a year lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDNY Stair Climb returns to Belmont Park on Sunday, October 17. This year’s 7th annual event is part of the nationwide 9/11 stair climb program that pays tribute to the FDNY firefighters who died more than 20 years ago on 9/11. The climb benefits the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), which supports the families of fallen firefighters and the FDNY Counseling Service Unit.

“Twenty years later, I still remember what trauma looked like etched on the faces of firefighters at the World Trade Center site when a team from the  National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and I arrived on scene September 12, 2001,” said Chief Ron Siarnicki, who is the NFFF executive director. “It’s not something you can ever forget.”

Siarnicki and a foundation team arrived at the World Trade Center site within hours of the terrorist attacks. And once there, the enormous challenge ahead in facing a level and scope of tragedy unmatched in the history of U.S. firefighting became apparent.

“We quickly understood we needed to expand our capabilities and look for resources and support that we could utilize to assist the fire service and their families through this unprecedented amount of grief and loss,” recalled Siarnicki. “Not only did we lose an unprecedented number of firefighters; we also realized that supporting the families and co-workers left behind would require behavioral and mental health support with a new and intense focus on trauma.”

The nation’s inaugural FDNY stair climb to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation took place on September 11, 2005 when Colorado firefighters climbed 110 flights of stairs in Denver – each step commemorating the 110 stories of the World Trade Centers. The concept caught on around the country and became an annual event, taking on particular relevance in New York, where the tragedy of 9/11 was so personal and still raw. Citi Field, home of the Mets, hosted the first of several FDNY stair climbs. In 2017, the annual event moved to Belmont Park.

There are several ways to participate. At, you can register as an individual climber, team captain or team member. You also can donate to a climber, a team or a team member.

Gates and on-site registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. on October 17 at Belmont Park. The opening ceremony will be at 9:30 a.m., with the climb set from 10 a.m. to Noon. Participants are invited to a post-climb reception with food and entertainment and the day’s racing card. Five races will be named in honor FDNY fallen heroes.

The fees are $50 for a climber (13 & up), which includes a t-shirt, badge & after party; $35 for a virtual climber (includes a t-shirt and virtual-climb toolkit); $35 for a virtual runner/walker, biker and gym stair climber (includes a t-shirt and virtual-climb toolkit; $50 for a climb supporter; and $20 for Kids, 4-12 (includes the after P=party, which is free for Children 3 & under.

“The FDNY knows that we’re here for them as long as they need us,” said Chief Siarnicki of the NFFF. “We’ve been able to bring this same promise to the fire service as a whole. Our trauma, grief and behavioral health counseling program is something we now offer to fire service organizations across the U.S. as they’re dealing with their own traumatic events and line-of-duty deaths.” 

Go to to read Chief Siarnicki’s article, “20th Anniversary of 9/11 Lessons Learned." 


Five furlongs with… Evan Peet

This month’s edition of five furlongs visits with Evan Peet, President of the Floral Park Chamber of Commerce, which recently hosted its annual “Day at the Races & VIP Luncheon” at Belmont Park. Named president of the Chamber at the beginning of 2021, Peet is pastor of Bridge Community Church in Floral Park. After the luncheon, he spent a few minutes discussing Belmont Park’s vital role in the community.  

Why is it important for the Chamber of Commerce to connect with Belmont Park?

Belmont Park is just down the road from us. At Gate 8, it backs onto Plainfield Avenue, just across the street from Floral Park Memorial High School. We consider Belmont Park part of our community even though technically, more of its property is probably in (the neighboring town of) Elmont.  

What’s the benefit of having luncheons like this one?

Business people can be so focused on their businesses and their work. Gathering at Belmont is a way to get away and feel important in the process – getting dressed up, wearing a hat and having fun. People look forward to the lunch and mark it on their calendars. 

It’s also a networking opportunity. That’s especially important now because so much of our work in the last year or so has been on Zoom. There’s no substitute for getting together in person, shaking hands and having a face-to-face conversation. It’s nice to be able to do that again.

What do you see as the importance of Belmont Park to the community?

It’s one of our community’s major attractions. It’s a place for people to gather, enter a different world and have some fun.

Describe the Chamber’s relationship with Belmont Park. 

It’s been great. We’ve had good experiences and a good relationship with NYRA stretching back years. Whenever we plan our events for the year, we set up a luncheon at Belmont Park. People really want to attend. 

It goes back to this luncheon. This is a way for us to give back to NYRA, which has been part of our Belmont Stakes Street Fair for years. We look forward to our relationship continuing.

What’s your own experience at Belmont Park?

It’s on several levels. I’ve lived in Floral Park for six years and by running the Floral Park Street Fair, have really gotten to know and appreciate NYRA people. 

I’ve also gotten to know people connected with the track in my role as pastor. A number of trainers and horsemen attend our services. And because we support Reverend Humberto Chavez and the team from the Race Track Chaplaincy (New York chapter). I go to Belmont Park quite a lot. It means I’m usually working on the backstretch – instead of taking in a day of the races from the restaurant! 


Expanding Educational Access for Backstretch Workers 

An innovative new partnership between the New York Race Track Chaplaincy and State University of New York (SUNY) Empire State College will expand educational access for the state’s backstretch workers, jockeys and trainers as well as family members who reside in their households. 

The agreement with SUNY Empire will provide participants with a $50 orientation-fee waiver and a one-time $100 Better Together Scholarship. In addition, the partnership opens opportunities for the Chaplaincy and SUNY Empire to identify areas of training received as a member or employee of the Chaplaincy that can be evaluated for college-level credit.  

“SUNY Empire’s model – flexible, online learning built around students’ lives – is a perfect fit for the NY Race Track Chaplaincy and the people they serve, including the backstretch community, jockeys, and trainers,” said Tina Evans, a 1997 SUNY Empire graduate and a member of SUNY Empire Foundation Board. As a SUNY Empire alumna and SUNY Empire State College Foundation Board member, I knew this would be an ideal partnership.” 

Hall of Fame rider and president of the board of the New York Race Track Chaplaincy Ramón Dominguez agreed. “We are grateful for this opportunity,” he said. “The flexibility and affordability of the programs offered by SUNY Empire are a great fit for the members of the backstretch community.” 

For Nathan Gonyea, officer in charge at SUNY Empire State College, the partnership is “a win-win.” 

“SUNY Empire serves students across New York state with a mission to expand access to affordable, high-quality educational opportunities that empower people and strengthen communities,” Gonyea said. “When the Chaplaincy approached us to explore partnership opportunities, we saw that their efforts align with our mission. Their members and employees will benefit from the education they earn through this partnership, and New York state will benefit from a stronger workforce as a result.” 

For more information, or to ask about community college or corporate partnership opportunities with SUNY Empire State College, visit the college’s partnership programs page. For more information about the New York Race Track Chaplaincy partnership program, email [email protected].  


A Helping Hand...   

Need a facemask? The Elmont Chamber of Commerce is distributing masks to the local community to guard against the spread of COVID-19. 

Please reach out to Chamber President Julie Marchesella at [email protected] or call the Chamber at 631-245-3782.

About NYRA Cares

The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA), which holds the exclusive franchise to conduct thoroughbred racing at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course, sponsors its NYRA Cares initiative to support the charitable endeavors of industry-related non-profits, service providers and community groups. 

In New York, NYRA has long provided sustaining financial contributions to deepen the impact of the Backstretch Employee Service Team (BEST), the Racetrack Chaplaincy of New York and the Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA).  NYRA Cares partners with national organizations such as the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the American Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House Charities and the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program among others. 

The Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is marked by a number of special events and community partnerships sponsored and supported by NYRA. These include the annual Belmont/Elmont Parade, the jockey visit to the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island and the Belmont Stakes Blue Ribbon Run for Prostate Cancer. 

Day 1 of the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival is highlighted by NYRA 's annual "Community Day", which will take place in 2021 on June 3. Community Day shines a light on the mission and goals of regional non-profits and service providers who set up informational booths and participate in various activities designed to raise awareness and funding for their efforts. 

At historic Saratoga Race Course, NYRA Cares’ signature initiative is the Community Outreach Booth, which each season highlights a total of 40 local and industry non-profit organizations by providing them with a unique platform to share information about their work and fundraising initiatives. One non-profit per day of the summer racing season receives the exclusive opportunity to interact with the thousands of guests who visit Saratoga Race Course. The Community Partner of the Day is also featured in the Post Parade racing program and on televisions throughout the venue. 

To learn more about NYRA Cares, visit:


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