DALLAS – Hundreds of first responders from across the globe lined the streets of Dallas on Saturday morning to pay tribute to their comrades who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Firefighters from Waxahachie, Midlothian, Ennis and Maypearl were among those making the journey to take part in the moving tribute.
First responders climbed in the memory of the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine emergency medical personnel who were killed in New York. Participants also climbed for the more than 235 first responders who have died since due to illnesses related to their work at ground zero. Each climber is given a tag to wear that features the name and photo of a fallen first responder.
Waxahachie Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson said it is “an honor and humbling experience” to climb in memory of those who lost their lives.
“We always say, ‘Never Forget,’ and this helps us remember that day,” Anderson said. “People start forgetting as time goes on – and this is one way to keep it at the forefront of their mind.
“I am climbing for Ladder Five’s Louis Arena,” he said. “Everyone has one (a tag) of those that were murdered that day to climb for. It is always good to remember and never to forget what we are here for. It means a lot to remember those guys that made the ultimate sacrifice that day.”
Climbers were tasked with climbing Renaissance Tower in downtown Dallas twice so as to equal the height, 110 stories, of the former World Trade Center. The climb starts in the second sub-basement of the building, with climbers working their way to the top.
Waxahachie Fire Department pump engineer Jason Eubanks shared Anderson’s thoughts about the day’s events – and the meaning behind them.
“You do it for the guys that lost their lives on 9/11,” he said. “Every year, you’re assigned someone to climb for and I am climbing for Lt. Michael Warchola. He was assigned to Ladder Five. You realize what they sacrificed just doing their everyday job but that is what we are here for.
“You see all of these people out here climbing,” Eubanks said. “It is just a humbling deal.”
Before starting the climb, former Lewisville Fire Department captain and broadcaster, Jeff Christenson, reminded everyone gathered about the importance of keeping the memories of the fallen alive.
“If you are a first responder, God bless you because you have a tremendous responsibility,” Christenson said. “This is the 18th anniversary of 9/11. Forgetting is not an option. If you are here with somebody that is younger than 29 years old, it is your responsibility to tell them.”
Former New York Police Department officer Thomas Wilson shared his memories with the audience gathered at Renaissance Tower.
“I went to help shut down the Manhattan Bridge to allow emergency equipment through,” he said. “When the second plane hit, I knew it was an act of war and my military training kicked in.
“Don’t look at the stair climb as a somber event,” said Wilson, who was among those who worked at ground zero. “It shows that evil can’t keep us down.”
Also speaking Saturday was former New York firefighter Brian McGuire, who retired from FDNY in 2013 after 14 years of service due to a 9/11 related illness. He serves on the board of directors for the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, which assists 9/11 first responders, firefighters and police with medical needs not covered by insurance.
“After the attacks, billboards across the country bore two words, ‘Never Forget.’ You have shown that you have never forgotten 18 years later,” McGuire said. “As you climb for that person today, remember the responders that are still sick.”
At several points in the climb, moments of silence were observed: the moments the planes hit the towers, when the Pentagon was struck, the crash of Flight of 93 in Pennsylvania and then when the towers collapsed.
Upon completing their second trip to the top, climbers placed the tag bearing the name of the person they were climbing for on a check-in board.
Maypearl firefighter Kick Holder, who’s participated in the climb for the past eight years, said it has helped him remember the importance of the day – and the sacrifice given by so many.
“It is great to see more people come out,” he said, noting the turnout for the event.
For more information about the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, visit www.dallasstairclimb.com.