I cried ….

I know …I know … I’m a fireman. Well guess what ??? Firemen are HUMAN … we have feelings and emotion. Most of the time, we are able to set them aside, to hide them from our friends, family and the public. I haven’t been doing such a good job of that here lately and for good reason.

Although I have NEVER FORGOTTEN, the 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our freedom has hit me harder than I had anticipated. Again, this happened for many reasons. I think of those 343 EVERY DAY. When I say that, I mean EVERY DAY. Especially on the days that I’m pulling a tour but those guys and the events of that day cross my mind DAILY.

I feel a sense on HONOR and PRIDE for those brave men who in a way, validated my job  life . I AM a fireman and from that, I can not hide. I was raised in a fireman’s home. I watched dad go to work for 24 hours at a time. He missed ball games, dances etc and at that age, I never really understood why.

I wish I could say that I’ve matured … I haven’t. That said, without a doubt; I’ve aged.  Now, I too am a fireman who has missed just as many games, dances and events. Like my father, and those 343;  I have devoted my life’s work to those I have never even met. Because of that, our families have suffered. I wish they hadn’t.

It’s actually  very ironic when you think about it. We depend on the “BROTHERHOOD” to make it back to our families, yet it is that same brotherhood that most often keeps us away. There is always a member needing help painting the baby’s room or building a new deck. After a bad tour we always end up out together for a few beers and an egg sandwich. This trip or that, this conference or another or trading time / working for this brother or the other.

I wonder if I could trade places with any of those 343 if they would come back to be better fathers, brothers, sons or husbands. It pains me that even today, after all this; that I am not. I don’t know how to separate the two … home and the job. I will say that those 343 have inspired me to do so. Every day could be my last and I’m not so sure that simply being a “good fireman” is enough anymore.

Today, I’m a much better grandfather than I ever was a father. I’m a better husband, son and person as a whole. That doesn’t absolve me of my wrongs in the past but those 343 and the events of that day have me on the right path. I hope they know how much positive has come from their sacrifice. I hope their families know that if even in the smallest of ways … some good has come from their loss.

So yes, I CRY. I cry because it took the death of 343 of my brothers for me to understand that there is more to this job than putting out fires. There is more to the meaning of  the word “BROTHERHOOD” than painting someone’s basement, building a deck or drinking a few beers. I cry because better men than I lost their lives that day.

My tears were multiplied this weekend. It’s a long story so hang with me. By now, you all know that Rhett and I have participated in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs. THIS IS NO EASY TASK.  Rhett and I have always done the climbs in turnout gear vs shorts, tennis shoes and tee-shirts because thats as close as we could come to what those 343 had on that day ( most stair climb rules / regulations specifically say no SCBA, hose or tools despite a lot of that showing up this past weekend).  If nothing else, we wanted to experience a part of what they did that day. WE’VE ACCOMPLISHED THAT AND MORE ! 

Before this weekend, we’ve completed two climbs … one in Baltimore, the other in Atlanta. Greenbelt, Md would be our 3rd and it would come on September 11th … the 10th anniversary.

Rhett is my best friend. Although he is younger, I look up to him in many ways. Not only is he a good fireman, he is also a great father, husband and member of his community. I hope I learn and grow to be half the man he is.

Although I don’t show it, we share a lot of the same values and principles. We think alike. The climbs have always been “spiritual” for us. We’ve climbed for the 343, for those left behind,  for our families and ourselves.

See related posts  HERE   HERE    HERE   and Rhett’s best post ever   HERE

This climb would be different in many ways. One of the things that “hit us” in our previous climbs was the fact that we’ve never had 343 climbers. We understood the hesitation to participate but would never have imagined that less than 343 would register. We too were nervous. Our names and faces are “out there” . What if we couldn’t make it? We knew we had the heart … but what about the legs? Come to find out, it was  (and is) never really about completing the climb. We’ve said from day one that if you want to climb and are at the same event as we are, we’ll walk WITH YOU … no matter how long it takes. We wanted to finish the 110 stories that our brothers weren’t allowed to but after the 1st climb realized that just being in those stairwells was enough … like them, we SHOWED UP!

Although it shouldn’t be needed, we wanted a way to draw and thank the participants. We contacted our good friend and Brother Zach Green from FoxFire …an MN8 Company. You have seen Zach and the FoxFire products many times here on this site as well as over on FireCritic. They offer a GREAT product that is the biggest innovation that I’ve seen in the fire service in the past 20 yrs. ….IT’S THAT GOOD!

Anyway, we told Zach … you have to give us 343 Illuminating Helmet Bands to pass out at the climb. He was on board from the get- go ! Not only did he send the bands, he had some special made. This Limited Edition band has the FoxFire logo in the color orange. Not only that, Zach also hand numbered each one to be 1-343 “of” 343 !  HOW AWESOME IS THAT ?!?  Zach couldn’t attend the Greenbelt climb in person but was there in spirit. We assured him that every climber would receive one …. they did.  Rhett and I had the honor of presenting the bands to the organizers and NFFF staff on the morning of the climb …. I cried again.  If these bands save only 1 fireman’s life …. it was WORTH IT and I am proud to have been a part of it. Special THANKS to Zach and FoxFire for all they do to keep us alive!

So, we had secured the bands and Zach wanted to know which hotel we would be staying at so he could ship them down. Hummmmm …. hotel? Another GREAT friend of ours, the Foundation (NFFF) and the Fire Service as a whole; DAVE STATTER  knew we were headed up and made a call. We were gonna stay at Dave’s house …. no “if’s, and’s or but’s ” about it. Yea … the FireCritic, Statter911 and Ironfiremen.com under the same roof !  COOL !

Actually, that was a huge gesture and example of brotherhood shown by Dave and his family. Come to think of it, Dave is the reason that we were in Greenbelt to climb in the first place. Back at Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, Dave Hillary took a group of us out to an O’s game. Basically, it was some big name Chiefs, some bigger name PIO’s, with me and Rhett thrown in to pass the beer and Cracker Jacks down the isles…LOL. All kidding aside, PG County’s Fire Chief  Mark Bashoor was there and sat next to us. We had a great conversation and he invited us up for the Greenbelt climb. How could we refuse ? If Chief Bashoor wanted us in Md, that’s where we would be!

This was a HUGE gesture on Rhett’s part that not many (other than me) know or will understand. We had been planning all along to climb in Richmond. Richmond is special to Rhett. He worked and lived there before moving to Roanoke. When the Chief extended his invitation, Rhett never said a word or hesitated … we graciously and humbly accepted.

The other thing is that  Statter  didn’t just open his home to me and Rhett … we had others traveling with us as well. Rhett would bring is 8yr old son Preston while my dad and step-mother would accompany me. Special THANKS to Dave, Hillary and Sam for allowing us to share their home!

So I’m getting ahead of myself here …. the 5 of us load into Rhett’s mini-van and head north. Greenbelt, Md … our 3rd memorial Stair Climb! Pop was driving, I was mixing and Rhett was drinking. This was going to be a good trip!

On the way to Statter’s mansion, we took a quick detour into one of Fairfax City’s Fire Stations. It was Saturday and we all knew what guests on a weekend are like so we kept our visit short.

The guys made us feel at home and even said they followed our sites … COOL ! Dad … it was like he had never even retired … I think he was already enjoying the trip. A great stop …. THANKS GUYS !

We made it to Statter’s and got busy. We had 343 envelopes to stuff with the Limited Edition Helmet Bands. EVERYONE went to work and Robyn and Hillary had us organized and ready to go in no time. The rest of the evening was spent over drinks, a great meal and conversation among friends.

We awoke early to head out for the Maryland Trade Center.

The part that I haven’t mentioned yet is the fact that dad was along to make the climb with us!  YEA… HE WAS GOING TO CLIMB !  There are a thousand reasons why I wanted dad with me this day. We had spent the day and days after September 11, 2001 together, glued to the TV. We shared in the horrors that unfolded as only a father and son on the job can. We didn’t speak out loud much but neither had to. Some of my most graphic memories from that day involve being with my father. I needed him then and would again 10 yrs later.

I was worried about asking. I didn’t know how he would feel or if he would even able to make a climb. I didn’t even get the words out before he said he was comming! The local paper even did an interview … see that article  HERE .

I said earlier that for me and Rhett, these climbs are spiritual. Often times, if a group is talking or cheering behind us in the stairwell; we’ll slow to allow them to pass. We climb in silence … remembering and honoring those who climbed before us. For us, it’s more about reflection than achieving a goal…. it’s a memorial.  My dad being there with me would take me to a much higher level. I wept with PRIDE.

I was HONORED to climb with the men of group #7 in Greenbelt, Md ! Obviously my dad.  Rhett goes without saying as well … it was our 3rd. My GREAT friend and Brother from Salem Fire/EMS, Captain Kevin Totten joined us for the 2nd time. Kevin also climbed Baltimore with us. Tommy Warshaw (who also made the Baltimore climb but wasn’t in our group) and Bill Carey from Back Step Firefighter .  We ended up with a 7th member … Rhett’s son Preston!

For me and Rhett, these climbs seem to work in the opposite direction … each one has gotten  more difficult. Greenbelt was to be my hardest of all. I was injured. I don’t say this as making an excuse or whining but I was HURT. I had pulled my back in a freak incident on Friday while out with my dad. I could hardly walk. I think it added to dad’s stress because he did everything in his power to have me sit this one out. He even offered it as in he would climb “in my place”. YOU JUST CAN’T DO THAT ! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here to type this post … I would have taken someone’s “place” back in 2001.

Preston made about 80 floors! I was the “weak link” in the group. We were making left hand turns in the stairs and that was the worst case scenario for my back. We had to stop briefly 3 times. Kevin and Bill actually assisted me for several stories. Dad knew I was hurting … he wanted me to drop my gear. At one point, I took my coat off for about 5 stories and he carried it …. I cried again.

I will never forget that image of my dad carrying my coat so that I could finish the climb … so we could finish it together! I will also never forget Tottin scooping me under his arms and telling me “lean on me … I gotcha”. THAT’S WHAT THESE CLIMBS ARE ALL ABOUT!

Of course I never doubted the heart of ANY of our members but was humbled to share in their sacrifice. He were ALL HURTING but some took on more. 

I cried as we walked in the door for our first assent. Dad lead the way for the entire 110 stories. I followed humbled once again by the example he has set. “Pop” (as I call him) has been retired for 8 years now. He doesn’t visit stations much … they’ve all changed. Yet, he came out of retirement, with no conditioning; for this! I don’t think he even broke a sweat. THAT’S MY DAD !

After our climb, Pop wanted to take the Buckaroo in. My wife (Donna) and daughters (Randi and Reba) drove up to watch and cheer us on. Obviously, the Buckaroo was with them (I think he even drove…lol).

That was another time I cried. When we came down and I seen my “girls” and the Buckaroo standing there, I was overcome with emotion. After all they have suffered and sacrificed through, because of my being on the job; they continue to love and support me!

Click here for a post with an AWESOME e-mail from my daughter concerning the climbs and the job!

Pop and I took the Buckaroo  up the elevators and got off 1 floor below the top.

Both of us were already spent but this was something we wanted and needed to do.

Dad carried the Buckaroo that entire story. The Buckaroo never spoke a word. I’m sure he didn’t know what or why we were doing this but also know that he must have known that it was for some special reason.

That made 3 generations of the Wines family in that stairwell, 10 years to the day after the attacks. I’m sure the Buckaroo will learn of those events once he begins school but I also know that he will learn a much different and more personal perspective from us.

I hope that is the only stairs the little fella will have to climb. I also know it wont be.

Like I’ve said before, we are all climbing in one sense or another.

The comfort is knowing that we aren’t climbing alone. I received several phone calls and text messages that morning to thanks us and wish us well. I carried their thoughts and wishes as we climbed.

If you participated in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb .. THANK YOU and congratulations!

I hope you found what you were searching for …. I know I have.

 Captain Wines