COLUMBUS (WCMH) – Twenty years after the September 11th terrorist attacks, and more than 500 miles from New York City, dozens of firefighters from around the country retraced the steps of fallen first responders.
Friday, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) hosted its annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb inside the Huntington Park baseball stadium. Participants climbed the equivalent of 110 flights on the stadium stairs to represent the levels of the World Trade Center.
“We want to, as much as we can, put ourselves in their shoes to understand and pay homage to everything they did and were in the process of doing,” said Moses Jeffries, IV, a district chief with the Nashville, TN Fire Department.
Jeffries explained he was a junior in college in Nashville in 2001 and watched the events play out on live TV in his university’s bookstore.
“That was one of the events, like so many others in my life, that turned me toward the fire service,” he explained.
343 firefighters with the New York City Fire Department were killed responding to the 9/11 attacks. Former FDNY firefighter Joe Minogue recalled starting his vacation that morning, walking his daughters to school before rushing back to help when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“This is what 9/11 was like. Same sky [as today], not a cloud,” Minogue said. “Then we all just went to work trying to find somebody, dig somebody out and couldn’t find anything. Just dust — no shoes, no complete desks, nothing, there were just fragments.”
Minogue is now an FDNY liaison for NFFF, helping prevent line of duty deaths and working to provide families of fallen firefighters with available resources. He said attending 9/11 memorial stair climbs are often a cathartic experience.
“It’s empowering, it’s uplifting, it’s healing, too,” he said. “It might be sad, but the fact that we never forget — and that’s what the fire department does, we never forget. And it’s a good thing.”
Barry Balliet, a board member for NFFF added, “The bond of the men and the women of the fire service is extremely intense. And whether you’re a volunteer or a career person, you really feel the mission.”
Friday’s participants were men and women from fire departments in Central Ohio, New York, Tennessee and elsewhere. Some were too young to remember the 9/11 attacks.
“It’s really neat to see the younger folks today that are involved in the climb because that gives them a good view and a sense of history of what price has been paid by their fellow firefighters,” Balliet said.
“Would these people do the same thing that the firefighters and first responders did 20 years ago? Yeah, without question,” Minogue added. “They’d go into that building and save another life. That’s why they’re here.”
Many of the out-of-town firefighters taking part in the stair climb were in Columbus for the Firehouse Expo at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The conference, featuring training, workshops and networking, ends on Saturday.