Aussie Firefighters Paddle to World Fire & Police Games

EMMITSBURG, MD -- Two Australian firefighters are doing something a bit different to honor the fallen heroes who raced into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 -- they're paddling.

Earlier this week, Shane Austin and Ben Chalmers got underway on their journey to New York City where they will participate in the 2011 World Police and Fire Games.

Both lieutenants with Fire and Rescue New South Wales said they've been planning the trip for several years. "We wanted a way to honor our brother firefighters from New York," Chalmers explained.

Austin added: "This has been three years in the making."

"We are asking people to donate to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. That's why we are doing this -- to help the families," Chalmers said."

Over the next 21 days, the two paddling enthusiasts will be utilizing different boats as they row up the Intercoastal Waterway.

"We are looking forward to meeting firefighters along our journey. That's what is going to make this so much fun," Austin said with a laugh.

With two NFFF staff members cheering him on, Austin slipped into a kayak in Tom's Creek, south of the National Fire Academy, and paddled away.

The creek is very shallow right now as Maryland is experiencing a drought. However, the two Aussies said they are used to similar conditions.

"We don't have snow melt so this is OK. Yeah, it's low but we're good."

Five or so miles downstream, Chalmers got in the water and Austin got behind the wheel of the SUV that was packed with gear. They are videotaping daily, and hope to post their news in the evening.

They have different vessels including a paddle board and kayaks.

"It takes some getting used to at first," Chalmers said about paddling while standing on a board.

Both firefighters said they were numb while watching the World Trade Center attack.

"It was horrible. We were off shift. It was the middle of the night. I was up all night watching. I saw the second plane hit," Chalmers said as his voice trailed off.

"It changed our fire department operations. We changed how we evacuate buildings and other things," he said, adding that crews focused on plans for incidents that may involve a train or business.

They say they know a special bond exists between firefighters around the globe. And, they felt compelled to do something for their comrades across the pond.

In the coming weeks, they hope to swap stories, visit firehouses and share a laugh as they paddle toward New York.