DALLAS — The words duty, honor and respect were in the hearts of first responders who trekked the Renaissance Tower in Dallas on Saturday morning.
Waxahachie, Ennis and Maypearl firefighters joined their comrades to take part in the annual Dallas 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb to memorialize the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
Each participant in the climb represented one of the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine medical personnel killed during the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. They also represented the lives of the first responders who have died since after being exposed to hazardous materials while working at Ground Zero.
Before the ascent, Sept. 11 first responder, retired FDNY Lt. Joe Torrillo, addressed the climbers before they headed into the building. During rescue operations, Torrillo was buried alive when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. After being treated by medical personnel at the scene, Torrillo was buried alive for a second time when the North Tower fell.
“In two days we will commemorate the worst attacks since Pearl Harbor. I want to dedicate this day to Ray Pfeifer (9-11 first responder who passed away May 28). He will always be an icon in the fire service.” Torrillo said. “I wish you a successful day and may God bless you all of you always.”
Event director John Barrett shared Torrillo feelings about Pfeifer, who would come to Dallas for the stair climb event. Barrett noted that Pfeifer would shake the hands of all the first responders that participated, thanking them for remembering his friends.
Waxahachie Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson took part in his fifth climb. The importance to remember the lives lost and keep their memories alive is Anderson's motivation.
“We always say never forget what happened on 9-11. It means a lot to climb in their honor,” Anderson said. “I am proud of everyone that goes to do it to represent the firefighters that died that day. There also police officers and emergency medical staff that are represented on the stair climb.”
Maypearl Firefighter Nick Holder shared Anderson’s feeling about taking part in the climb and the significance of the event’s purpose.
“This is my fifth year. I always enjoy doing this because it is something that makes you remember the guys that have fallen,” Holder said. “We have to remember them because they died for something that we all fight for.”
Holder added that the climb is a way to come together and remember.
Climbers started their journey in the basement of the Renaissance Tower. After leaving the basement, they traveled up 54 stories to the top. Once they are rested, they make the journey all over again to equal the 110 stories of the World Trade Center.
The life of each person lost is carried with every climber.
“I like to do it as a memorial to the guys that died that day. Every person that participates is given a nametag and your climbing for a specific person. It allows you to learn about that person and what their lives were like before and see what they left behind,” Waxahachie Firefighter Jacob Richardson stated. “We are not just doing this because it is a physical activity. We are doing it because those guys did it and they laid their life down. It is a real thing that happened. The families that it happened to are still affected by it.”
Ennis Fire Department Capt. Josh Slovak shared Richardson’s feelings about the importance of the day, which is to remember and recognize those people that gave their all for others to live. This is the first year that the Ennis Fire Department has taken part in the stair climb.
Slovak stated that everyone on the climb is going to be there to lend a hand to help others, so everyone is honored.
“I have got five other guys with me. If I get tired, they are going to pick me up and carry me. We are going to stay together as a group just like those guys did that day. The six of us from Ennis and everyone that is going to be there is not going to let anyone give up. That is what it is all about,” Slovak explained. “I think that everyone that jumps into that stairwell is going to be nervous. At the end of the day, we are going to do it as a team and nobody is going to let anyone fail.”
Upon reaching the top for the second time, a name tag is placed on a check-in board. The climber reads the name, and the tag is put on the board. A bell is then rung, which signals that the fallen first responder reached the top.
Climbing for the first year was Waxahachie Firefighter Jeffrey Aycock. Aycock stated that the experience of climbing with so many people was humbling.
“Just to see so many firemen come up here and do this it just shows the brotherhood and the respect for the guys up in New York,” Aycock said. "You almost can’t put words to it.”
Aycock continued, stating that during the climb he never felt a moment that he couldn’t make it all the way to the top.
“You know what you are climbing for and your together with all of the other brothers who are all pushing each other,” Aycock recalled. “So there was never a moment for me where I never felt like I could not keep going.