The Voice in Your Head Says Stop, the Voice in Your Heart Says Go
Members of Lucas and Fairview Fire Department participated in the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday, Sept. 8. “The first known 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb event occurred on September 11, 2003, during "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. Albuquerque Fire Department Lieutenant Charles Cogburn scaled a two story building 55 times wearing body armor, a helmet and an M-4.” (https://www.dallasstairclimb.com/history) Since 2003, more and more stair climbs have been held across the nation and some in other countries.
Lucas firefighter/ paramedic, Jason Bender, has been a firefighter/paramedic for nine years and with Lucas for eight years. This was his first year to participate in the climb. He said, “I was supposed to climb last year but didn't make it back in time from Fulton during hurricane relief.”
Bender said, “I climbed to honor the fallen from 9/11 and those who have passed since then due to post-tragedy illnesses.” He found listening to the speaker from FDNY and hearing the final bell to honor the fallen as the most moving moments during the event.
While climbing 110 flights, Bender described his thoughts, “Good Lord my legs are gonna give out! By floor 30 you are already burning. Plus, add all the added weight and heat of our gear, I thought I'd never finish. But, you keep pushing, remembering why you are climbing. None of the other climbers will let you fail. We are all in it ‘til the end.” He said he felt heat exhaustion, dehydration and muscle cramps while climbing. “The voice in your head says stop, while the voice in your heart says keep going! It's physically draining, but once you make it to the halfway point, it’s all about willpower until the end. Mind over matter.”
588 climbers participated this year (175 volunteers). Bender described what it felt like to be surrounded by this many firefighters from around the metroplex, “It's amazing. You meet new people and get a chance to see and learn how other cities operate and work together. But in that stairwell, you aren't firefighters from possibly hundreds of different cities. You are all one department, all working for the same cause. That's the best part.”
He said he will definitely do the climb again. “I am actually going to request to climb for the firefighter that I was assigned last year, but didn’t get to climb for. Kind of a payback dedication. I'm looking forward to it!”
Lucas captain/paramedic Ethan Carverhas been with LFRD for 6.5 years. This was his second year to do the stair climb. He said, “I participated in the event to be able to honor those in our profession who have given their lives to help others. In this day and age of a “me first” attitude, it takes a special person just to do our jobs every day, let alone those who gave their lives trying to help others on 9/11.”
He said the most emotional part of the event was during the ringing of the bell. “The four 5s (a bell struck in four intervals of 5 rings each) signifies the last alarm of a firefighter; that he or she has returned to a higher station. When they do that to honor the 343 firefighters fallen on 9/11, downtown is silent and you hear the echo of the bell resounding off the buildings. It gives you a very somber feeling.”
During his climb he described his thoughts, “Throughout the climb, they have photos of the twin towers, firefighters helping others on 9/11, quotes from 9/11, you really just think about the main reason you’re there, and that’s to represent a fallen firefighter and climb in honor of him.” And, physical state, “You basically are climbing in a giant sauna with 650 people all in one stairwell. You go through a lot of water, dehydration, cramping, and a sore back from the gear.” And, emotionally, “It’s pretty uplifting. When anyone is in the stairwell and having a hard time finishing, someone is always there to offer encouragement, a hand to get you up the next step, or a drink of water. This job comes from the unspoken brotherhood of the fire service. We may all be from different departments but we are all there for the same reason, and that’s to honor those fallen heroes who came before us.” He will continue to do the stair climb.
Lucas firefighter/paramedic, Ian Evanshas been with LFRD for almost six years. He has been a firefighter for seven years. He has participated in the stair climb the last three years. He said, “I think like a lot of firefighters of this current generation, that was definitely a terrible and shocking day. Everyone remembers where they were that day, and has those images of planes hitting the buildings, people jumping to their deaths, and the horror of seeing those towers fall. Realizing the loss of those who went into those buildings and enduring the struggle to reach the top where people were trapped, has changed my experience from seeing it to now living a small part of that day. After finishing the climb, it does feel like a rebirth.”
He describes the most emotional part of the event, “I'd say when the climb actually begins. You go from standing in the street surrounded by hundreds of other climbers …then you walk to a steel beam that is from the World Trade Center. After touching the beam, you go straight to the tower climb. The hour long build-up of emotion culminates when you walk into the Renaissance Tower where bagpipes are playing in the lobby.” He describes his thoughts, “I try to keep positive, my body wants to slow down…I see pictures taped to the walls of the staircase and think about the images. I think I should have trained harder, and I look weak compared to some of the other climbers. It is not a race or a macho thing, but you begin to question your commitment and resolve to honor the person whose name you are carrying.” And physical state, “At first, it is a nervous excitement climbing, It is crowded, your legs aren't quite awake from standing with the burden of the gear. The excitement fades as the adrenaline beings to take over and you move quickly from floor to floor. After a dozen or so floors it gets much quieter, and the only noises heard are from heavy booted feet, and the occasional volunteer giving words of encouragement. Every dozen or so floors is a place in a hallway designated as a break floor. Climbers go from struggling with each step and after a few minutes of relief … people begin again with a renewed stamina. Finally, you reach the top floor, which opens up to a large space with a collection of climbers. From this highest floor (54) you can see all of downtown Dallas, and you see how far up you've gotten. But, that was only the first half of the climb, and you still have to take an elevator down to do it all over again. The second lap up the building is different, maybe slower or more methodical; your muscles are worn out and soaked in sweat. Every floor begins to look the same, and the drive to reach the top becomes harder to remember. Finally, you reach the top floor a second time to clapping and a long line of climbers waiting to announce their fallen hero. When it is your turn in this line, you return a tag which bears the name of the person you climbed for, you ring a bell signifying they have made it with the others, and speak their name into a microphone.” Evans will climb again, “I have decided to keep climbing for my firefighter until I reach the age he died which is 42, and then I will give it to someone younger. I will be 42 in 9 years; at that point I will have climbed 12 times.”
Fairview firefighter/EMT Austin Smothermanhas been with FFD two years. He has been a firefighter five years. He has participated in the stair climb for three years. He said, “I participate in the climb each year in memory of the firefighters, police officers, and EMS personnel who have gone before us. I climb to be a part of a visual for those who weren’t alive or were too young to know what happened on 9/11.”
He describes the most emotional part of the event, “Each year I have climbed, there is a guest speaker from the New York Fire Department. They speak on behalf of someone they knew or were related to whopassed away in the attacks on 9/11. It is moving to hear them speak and know that I am climbing in support of them and those who were lost.” He describes his thoughts, “At the beginning of the climb, I looked to the top of the tower we were going to climb. It wasn’t on fire, everyone was calm. I tried to picture what the firefighters saw in New York before entering the Twin Towers. Each step I took, I knew I was going to make it out. But for the firefighters in the Twin Towers, their thoughts were very different. I tried to put myself in their shoes and thought “What if I was really climbing this tower after it was hit?” And, Physical state, “The start of the climb isn’t bad. Your body isn’t warm and the air is cool. Once we got to about floor 25, your body starts to heat up and sweat. The air is thicker and warmer. It’s like a sauna due to the heat and humidity. In full bunker gear, it’s hard for your body to cool off.” He said he plans on climbing for the rest of his career, “It’s a great feeling to be a part of something bigger then myself.”
Cindy Ledesma, Event Director of the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb said, “The Dallas Stair Climb is held each year in September as a remembrance of the first responders and the other thousands lost during the attacks on September 11, 2001, and also those lost due to post 9/11 related illnesses. That number is now more than 200. Hundreds of first responders in Texas and beyond gather at the Renaissance Tower to climb for this purpose. We also honor the families of fallen police, fire & EMS personnel in the state of Texas. The event is intense from every angle, but all in attendance have made a vow to never forget.”