AUSTIN (KXAN) — Fire Specialist, Robert Busby, has worked with the Austin Fire Department for the last 18 years. 

It was there where he met his colleague and friend, Travis Maher, 47, a battalion chief with the Austin Fire Department. 

“Travis, he is very straight-laced. He’s not one to really break character,” Busby said.

“I definitely like to cut up a little bit and joke… So, just trying to break through his shell, being so serious was always one of my favorite things with him,” he continued. 

After the Sept. 11 attacks on New York, Travis went to the World Trade Center to aid in the rescue and recovery effort. He now has stage four cancer and is in critical condition. Busby and his colleagues are confident Travis’ illness can be linked to his time in New York.

Busby was thinking of ways to process what is happening to his long-time friend and colleague. He heard of something called a “long walk,” where you walk for 24 hours with no headphones or distractions to honor someone. 

“I kind of took that idea and kind of twisted it into something that I was going to personally do alone,” Busby said. “And then I threw the idea out to the department, and it just caught fire.”

Tonight, Busby and nearly 100 of Travis’ coworkers and friends are walking 23 miles to honor his fight against cancer. 

“We’re all walking united, and it’s basically just going to be a big family reunion,” he said. “(We’ll) enjoy our time together and reminisce about some good stories about Travis, some things we’ve been through and build some new relationships.”

Travis, unfortunately, is not alone. A study published in 2019 found that workers who went to the site of the Sept. 11 attacks to help the city recover were exposed to an array of toxins known to cause adverse health effects. The researcher’s analyses found that those workers are at an increased risk for prostate and thyroid cancers and leukemia. 

“On top of just honoring this man is bringing awareness to what the risks of this job are and the heroes that were there that day. They did all they could to help,” Busby said. 

Busby hasn’t told Travis’ family about what they are doing tonight, but he hopes the message is loud and clear. 

“I’m hopeful that they see what we’re doing, all the love that (surrounds) him and the department; all that inspiration he has given us throughout his career,” Busby said. “I hope that gets back to him. I hope that gets back to his family, and they have that memory forever.”