I’m still so proud and in a state of mind that I’m not sure if I can even post about it yet.
All of you folks know that Kevin Totten (Salem Fire/EMS), Rhett Fleitz (Fire Critic) and I have been here in Baltimore for the past few days for Firehouse Expo 2011. You also know that we participated in the 9/11 memorial stair climb. 110 stories in full PPE in honor and memory of our 343 fallen brothers from the FDNY.
The event was a huge success and I am proud to have been a part of it!
Following 9/11, these climbs have been going on across the Country for some time now but I believe that this particular event had the largest number of participants to date. Obviously, the goal is to have 343 members climbing and we reached the mark of 323 here in Baltimore!
I’ve been emotional the entire time. Emotional as in I can’t even talk about it without getting choked up.
Dave Statter and I talked about it. I remembered back to when he had us ( Firefighter Netcast … Rhett, John Mitchel and I ) up to Emmitsburg, Md for the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend.
Dave, his wife Hillary and I spoke of being on the Memorial grounds. They both spoke passionately of how the experience there would be almost “spiritual”. I didn’t understand it at the time but would soon learn how true and accurate their description was. At that time in my life, I hadn’t experienced something truly “spiritual” for a while. I did that weekend.
The experience left me wondering if I would even return to “that place” again. Return not Emmitsburg, but that emotional place I had found while there.
I found it again here in Baltimore!
I’m not even sure “spiritual” explains it. I was scared. Nervous…excited, anxious and apprehensive. What if I couldn’t make it? I knew (or thought) I had the heart but what if I didn’t have the legs? My thoughts went to those 343 …. did they have the same thoughts? Either way, they had a job to do so they went up…. I did too.
I spoke with the group and we formed a rank structure. I was to be in command. (ANOTHER HONOR).
Kevin took the lead, followed by Kevin, Jody, Chris, Rhett and I trailed the group. In the first flight, I said the Lord’s Prayer. I followed that with the Firemen’s prayer. I then began to think of the brave men who gave their all that September day.
My intentions were to remain silent and allow each member to “have their time” in the stairwell but instinct kicked in and I immediately began checking on our group. I made sure each member was “ok” along the way while giving frequent reminders of water and hand rails. I’m a Captain…. that’s what I do.
Our group was professional. Each member disciplined and we honored the 343 well! We were a team, working for the same cause… towards the same goal. In a few very short minutes, members from Va, Kentucky, Ohio and Maryland became a company! I knew from step one that we would all complete the climb even if it meant carrying someone up.
There was plenty of time to reflect. It was a long grueling climb. I thought often of not only the 343 members from that day but also of many of our lost Brothers from before and since.
I thought of Pete Lund, William ” Billy” Hick, Curtis Meyran, and John Bellew just to name a few.
I climbed for Joseph Angelini and his son Joey Jr. I carried both tags and looked at them often. We have worn their pictures every day of the Expo since. I have them around my neck even now as I type this post.
I couldn’t help but think of their families and how the news must have came to them. I wonder if they are ok. How they’re coping. I wonder if the money raised for this event will ever reach them? I’m sure it will and hope it makes a difference! More than that, I hope they learn that someone carried their loved ones photo while climbing 110 stories. I hope they know we havent forgotten.
It was somber, sad and frightening. Those 343 entered that structure that September day knowing it was a coffin. There’s no way way they didn’t know it was” gonna be bad”, but they went anyway. Me….us? We had it easy. We had water stations on the 16th and 20th floor (or some where close anyway). We had Medics in the door ways to ensure we were all ok.
We did the climb 22 stories at a time. We hit the top then rode the service elevator down to the lobby. Then, we headed back up the stairs. There was a short distance between the elevator and stairway we used. That walk took us through the lobby where a large crowd gathered to cheer the climbers on.
It was humbling and brought me to tears every lap.
Group 19 completed our climb in 1 hour! My legs went from feeling like rubber to as if they weighed 100 lbs each. My gear must have tripled in weight as it became sweat soaked. What the gear couldn’t absorb filled my boots.
I looked into the faces of each member of group 19 as we rounded the landings. I saw what I can only imagine was on the faces of the 343 as they climbed …PRIDE and DETERMINATION.
I will remember this climb and my time in that stairwell until the day I die. I will remember Joseph Angelini, his son Joey Jr and the other 341 members of the FDNY who died in stairwells that day.
I WILL NEVER FORGET. Thanks to National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, The Baltimore City FD, The Hilton and all the volunteers who helped with the event. Thanks also to the 323 members who made this climb and to group 19.