Huntsville firefighters step it up to honor memory of brethren lost on 9/11

single-meta-cal September 11, 2017

Twenty-one firefighters from Huntsville Fire & Rescue (along with one each from Decatur and Madison) participated Sunday in the 8th annual Nashville 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, which honors the memories of the New York City firefighters who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center.

The delegation from North Alabama, which did so on their off day, included: Dusty Gardner, Brett Reynolds, Chris Salvail, Paul Darwin, Allen Painter, Reese Howell, Wesley Jones, Dennis Powell, David Weeks, Dustin Weeks, Matt Seikel,  Bryan Lee, Brandon Frazier, Dennis Allmon, Laine Cowan, Jesse Kistler, Scott Reed, Justin Parks, Sean Patrick, Jeff Valdez, JonMichael Williams, Brandon Magill (Madison Fire) and Brandon Strickland (Decatur Fire).

City Blog asked one of those firefighters, JonMichael Williams, who works on Engine 10 at Station 10, to share his story of the Stair Climb:

Driving into Nashville, I was thinking about how those guys were getting ready to start their shifts that morning. Firefighters like to sit around and drink coffee and chit-chat as the shift begins and they were probably doing the same thing. They went in thinking it was going to be a normal shift day, then all chaos broke loose when the planes hit the World Trade Center.

They died doing something they love. Firefighters love helping people, helping our community. Somebody was in trouble and they didn’t think about the dangers or what could happen. They put all that aside and just went to work and tried to help as many people as they could.

That’s why it’s important to remember them and that’s what I’d want the public to remember about them.

The 343

There are only 343 firefighters who do the Stair Climb. All firefighters relate to that number. That’s how many of our brothers lost their lives that day. The Stair Climb registration is July 1, starting at 0700, and you have to be Johnny-on-the-spot to be chosen. This year, it filled up in 12 minutes and it was a real team effort from our guys here.

This was the fourth one I’ve done, and we usually have a speaker before it starts. There was a woman whose father was a fire captain. She told us about what a great guy he was, how he worked two jobs so he could pay for her and her sisters’ dance lessons and how he never missed a recital.

He had just gotten off his shift but his car was blocked by another firefighters’ car. He went back into the station and while he was inside they got toned-out (the alarm signal) to the World Trade Center. Of course, he jumped onto the truck, went into the World Trade Center and he never came out.

After her speech, they had bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace.” That always makes the hair on a firefighters’ arm stand up. They presented the colors, we said the Pledge of Allegiance and they had a prayer.

‘Game on’

Then it’s game-on for us. We go down to the basement and suit up. The Stair Climb is at the William Snodgrass Tennessee Tower. We go up 28 stories, then take a freight elevator back down, and go back up. We do four laps, in teams of seven. We’re in full gear, and that weighs about an extra 50 pounds.

We all get a badge on a lanyard with a name and picture of one of the guys who died. All along the stairwell, they have the pictures of the 343 on the wall. You see their faces as you’re climbing. That’s another thing that motivates you, no matter how tired you are, to keep going for their memory. They weren’t thinking about sore muscles or how their knees hurt them when they went up the stairs at the World Trade Center.

Huntsville firefighters at 9/11 Stair Climb

Mine was John M. Moran. He was a battalion chief. He was 49 when he was killed. His father was a New York City firefighter and so was his brother. He had just finished his shift at the Special Operations command on Roosevelt Island when the planes hit. He went inside the World Trade Center to act as an incident command officer, to report to people outside what was going on and what they needed. The second building collapsed on him while he was in there.

I’m going to be hurting after this. I’m not going to lie. I’m 35 and try to stay in shape. I get on the elliptical machine every shift and do two or three miles and I do cross-fit. But I had a calf cramp after I started back to Huntsville and I’m going to be a little sore.

The thing I keep in mind is I may be a little sore after the Memorial Stair Climb — but I’m able to go home and hug my family. Those guys in the World Trade Center didn’t get that opportunity.

Firefighters who participate in the Stair Climb pay an entry fee that supports the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation

Lead photo – WABC Photo/Mike Waterhouse