“The power to inspire”

Avalon Volunteer Fire Company member Frank Sulzer recently was recognized for his “Power to Inspire.” Frank runs races all across the country in full fire gear, in memory of the first responders who died on 9/11, and for all first responders and military whose lives have been lost since then. Photo by Topm Steiner for The Citizen

Frank Sulzer of Avalon started his running a little later than many, beginning three years ago at age 38.

But don't expect to see Frank, who also is a member of the Avalon Volunteer Fire Company, jogging California Avenue in typical running attire -- sweats or shorts, water bottle and the obligatory headphones plugged in to some device that provides music to accompany the trek.

Instead, he takes a more serious approach by running in a full firefighter's bunker suit that includes jacket, pants, helmet and airpack, while also carrying the American flag.

It would take just a glance at his gear, however, for anyone to understand his reason for the otherwise peculiar way he is dressed. The jacket has patches from the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), Ladder Company 3; 9/11 memorial patches; and his Team Red/White/Blue (RWB) patch. The helmet displays decals that commemorate 9/11 crew members killed on duty, and his air bottle displays the names of fallen firefighters, police officers, EMS and military men and women killed in the line of duty, as well as those who died from PTSD or suicide.

Frank's dedication started when he learned of Gerard P. Dewan who died on 9/11, one of 12 firefighters to lose their lives from a single FDNY department. "I found out three years ago that my cousin married Gerard's cousin, so I started doing 9/11 stair climbs in his memory. We climb 110 floors in full fire gear and air pack. Then two years ago, I started doing 5K runs all over the United States in full gear. I figure that this is my way of keeping his and all the fallen heroes' memories alive."

Frank also joined the Western Pennsylvania chapter of Team RWB. Throughout the country, there are over 100 RWB members, but Frank knows of only one other runner in the Pittsburgh area, Ron Brown from West Deer, Station 289 Fire Department.

With a goal of never letting the fallen be forgotten, Frank last year completed 50 runs that included 5Ks and half marathons in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, D.C., New York and Indiana. He covers all of his own expenses, but has launched a GoFundMe account to help out with a planned September run in Hawaii. His page should be ready by the end of the month, and "If anyone is interested in following me, my runs, and my GoFundMe page, they can go to my Facebook page called Fireman Frank," he said.

Aside from that account, Frank raises no money, mainly because fund-raising is not the purpose of Team RWB.

"So far in 2016, I have over 55 runs and events scheduled for every weekend from March to September and I'm still adding more," Frank said.

Frank also has several multi-run weekends on his agenda, with Memorial Day weekend offering a real challenge, starting on May 28 with a Buffalo, NY 5k run, and a Buffalo half marathon the following day, after which he will head to Erie for the "Glow Erie" Fun Run 5k, and then wrap it up with a memorial 5k run in Tallmadge, OH.

Understating the schedule, Frank said, "That's the busiest weekend I have!"

Frank recently earned some recognition, as well as some contest prizes, when he was named one of five winners in a contest sponsored by Fleet Feet Pittsburgh. The contest was titled, 'The Power of Running to Inspire.'"

Karen Harr, Director of Training Programs and Running Groups Fleet Feet Sports Pittsburgh, said that Frank was nominated by an Illinois woman who encountered him while participating in the "Biggest Loser Half Marathon" in Erie. "She wrote about how he inspired her to continue her race and how he runs these events in fireman's gear."

Harr said that Frank was selected for "The Power to Inspire" award because his actions personify the ideas to inspire and to never forget. "Frank doesn't just run his races in fireman's gear. He finishes and then goes back and runs with whoever could use some support: kids, an injured runner, the last finisher, a 400 lb. woman struggling to finish. He does this at dozens of races a year."

"He is a remarkable man," Harr said.