On the morning of December 13th 2011, I stood on the roof of a hotel 23 stories above Ground Zero in New York City. I was with a small group from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Committee. We had just finished climbing 110 flights of stairs to honor those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center which once stood on the ground we over looked. The night before Ron Sarnicki, Executive Director of the NFFF presented the FDNY Counseling Services Unit with a donation of over $150,000 from the 2011 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Campaign.
I remember walking out of the stairwell to the roof that morning and feeling a chill as the wind quickly cooled my sweat-soaked shirt. I remember the sun coming up, looking over the memorial, staring up at the freedom tower and hearing the constant mechanical noises which all so perfectly exhibited progress and tribute. I remember how I felt that morning, standing in that setting, knowing that my work as a member of a team helped raise the money which was presented the night before. I remember being proud that I had kept my promise to never forget. I remember feeling that I had made a difference. I remember that the experience of those moments had a profound effect and yet it did not prepare me for the confirmation I was about to receive.
Two hours later in a classroom at the FDNY Training Center I sat just across a table from Fire Commissioner Cassano as he described in heartfelt detail how important the Counseling Unit was to his department. He directly attributed their services to saving lives, saving marriages and even saving families of survivors. He also explained to us that after 10 years the unit was scheduled to be closed due to funding shortages. Instead, our donation would allow the unit to remain open another year. The Commissioner of the FDNY personally thanked and left each one of us with, “I promise that you are continuing to make a difference in our survivors’ lives”
A year later I think back to that trip to New York. I think of the climb in Lucas Oil Stadium last April at FDIC where the entire exhibition floor fell silent for Amazing Grace and the initial ascent of over 200 climbers. I also think of the phone call we received at our station in July when Joe Minogue (FDNY Ret. now with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation) let us know that without the support of the stair climbs the FDNY Counseling Unit would not have been able to travel to Colorado and help provide counseling to the Aurora Fire Department dealing with the response to the tragic theater shooting. I think of the night in August when 25 family members of the late Lt. Kevin Dowdell (Rescue 4 – 9/11/2001) had dinner at our station with the rig that Kevin answered his last alarm on. I think of how I felt seeing nearly 2,000 people climbing stairs in front of me at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison Colorado on 9/11/2012.
As I continue to experience years like the last 365 days have been; 9/11 is no longer just a date or event. It is something that I have so many memories, thoughts and connections to that it is part of me. It is a responsibility of mine as a firefighter and an American to maintain tribute, honor and respect to. It has taught me that you may have “Never Forget” on a shirt or a sticker but unless it is written on your heart and displayed in your actions it is just 11 letters and ink.
For 2013 I would ask you to think about your promise to Never Forget. If you think that the years have put too much time and distance between you, the 343, and over 2600 other Americans taken on that day I would ask that you step back up for them. It is becoming just a “Day of Remembrance” on calendars and in people’s minds. Charities and services like the FDNY Counseling Services Unit are going dry, children are coming of age that weren’t old enough to understand or even born when we watched those towers fall.
I hope you join me on the stairs this year at FDIC in Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday April 26th at 1300 hours when we start the first 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb of 2013 and take steps towards our goal of raising over $200,000 this year. For the past two years, despite the over 30,000 firefighters in attendance at FDIC we have not met the goal of 343 climbers, I hope this year is different. Click on this link FDIC 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb and register by selecting a fallen brother to honor. If you cannot make the trip to FDIC at least take a few minutes and click on the images to read a bio of one of the 343 and learn a little more today about the men who were taken from us over 11 years ago.
Finally, I offer you this; if you cannot attend the stair climb but still want to honor the 343, support the FDNY Counseling Unit and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, I will climb for you. Register through the website select a firefighter to honor and consider your registration a donation but it will not stop there. Contact me and I will carry the photo of your firefighter up the stairs with Lieutenant Kevin Dowdell, the man I honor with my climb and ensure that all 343 photos make it the 110 stories in Lucas Oil Stadium in a physically moving memorial to the 343. Below are just a few of the ways you can help with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Campaign. From buying a t-shirt, finding a climb near you next year or contacting Billy Hinton to get the information on how you can organize a climb. The stair climbs are not the only way to honor 9/11, it is in fact one of thousands within the fire service and beyond. I just speak to it because it has been my path which has brought rewarding and humbling moments with every step.
National Fallen Firefighters Foundation 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs
Ride Backwards NFFF Stair Climb Charity Shirt