Waxahachie, Midlothian firefighters climb 110 floors to honor Sept. 11 victims

ANDREW BRANCA Daily Light Staff Writer
Waxahachie firefighters touch a steel beam from the World Trade Center in passing before entering the Renaissance Tower to climb 55 stories twice from the basement to simulate climbing the 110 stories 9/11 first responders climbed.

Waxahachie and Midlothian Firefighters took to heart the motto “never forget” this weekend.

Firefighters climbed 110 stories as part of the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday to remember those who gave all on Sept. 11, 2001 to rescue others inside the World Trade Center towers in New York after a terrorist attack.

First responders from around the country came to downtown Dallas to climb 55 stories of the Renaissance Tower twice to honor the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine EMS personnel lost.

“Honestly that is the hottest and hardest one hour I can say I’ve ever experienced in my life. You get to floors 70 and 80 and it feels like the floors stop. With so many guys in there, it heats up and feels like a sauna,” Midlothian firefighter Austin Ullrich said. “Everybody motivates each other. You have got people yelling from downstairs, all the way upstairs, cheering each other on. This is not a race. This is not anything about glory for us. It is completely about remembering the ones who have died and heroes that are not with us anymore. Those are the ones that we keep working and training and doing stuff like this for.”

Midlothian firefighter Travis Livingston said it is a humbling event to see everyone gathered here.

“You try not to get complacent, but you start to get a little more confortable in the daily life of your city in what you are doing,” Livingston said. “This kind of reminds you that at any time, anything could happen, and you have got to be ready for it.”

Livingston said he would encourage other firefighters to take place in this event.

Fellow Midlothian firefighter Sam Villa shared Livingston’s and Ullrich’s feelings.

Villa said the emergency crews responding to the towers sacrificed everything knowing that they would not make it out, and they still volunteered to go.

“It is a moving event to see this many firefighters in one setting knowing that this is how many families lost their loved ones,” Villa said.

Saturday’s event started with a presentation of the colors by an honor guard from the Dallas Fire Department and a performance of the National Anthem. Retired New York firefighter and Sept. 11 veteran John Walters shared his memories with the crowd gathered on the street. Walters lost 19 members of his firehouse during the terrorist attacks and worked at ground zero for more than six months.

“We never left ground zero until we had everyone accounted for as best we could, even to the point where firefighters were getting arrested for not wanting to leave their brotherhood behind. Everybody goes home — period,” Walter said. “If you want to look at a hero, look at the iron workers that spent months at ground zero, working side by side with us, or the police officers working at a landfill to find any kind of remains to give closure to the families.”

Walters asked the crowd to remember the lives that were lost, not just in New York but also in Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. He added that he is not a hero but just went to work that day.

At his firehouse in Queens, Squad 288 and HazMat 1, there are 20 plaques on the wall for Sept. 11. Nineteen of the plaques were for firefighters who were killed on that day and one was for a firefighter who took his own life shortly after. Walters thanked the emergency responders, who were climbing and the volunteers who helped to put on the event, because it carries on their legacy.

Following his remarks emergency responders made their way into the Renaissance Tower as bagpipes played. Before entering the building.

Each climber touched a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. The climb started in the tower’s basement. After climbing out of the basement emergency responders climbed another 54 stories. They then repeated this again after a short rest period. By climbing the building twice, it symbolizes the height of the World Trade Center, 110 stories. Firefighters, law enforcement officers and EMS personal made the climb wearing all of their equipment.

Waxahachie Fire Department Capt. Josh Anderson said the event is a powerful reminder of the events that happened on that day in 2001. It helps the public to remember and shows how they still care.

Each person taking part in the event climbed in memory of one of the fallen. Waxahachie and Midlothian firefighters represented firefighters from Squad 1 and Rescue 5. When they reached the top the second time, a tag with the person’s name was placed on the check-in board to symbolize they had made it to the top. A bell was then rang after the tag was affixed to the board.

Waxahachie Firefighter Jay Wilemon said the event puts the events of 9/11 into perspective seeing everyone taking part.

“It is amazing that the fact that 343 guys came together. It’s actually more than that because there are some alternates here. This is a huge event. It is unforgettable,” Wilemon said. “You can image the chaos that transpired. You can see all of the different entities that it takes just to put this on. So you can imagine having all of those different originations out there on the same day.”