On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of people died after terrorists hijacked passenger jets and flew them into buildings.
Among those who lost their lives were 343 New York City firefighters who entered the twin towers of the World Trade Center and climbed toward the top of the 110-story buildings in search of victims.
Last Saturday, Sept. 6, firefighters from throughout Wisconsin honored those NYC heroes during the Lambeau Field Memorial Stair Climb in Green Bay.
They climbed the equivalent 110 stories of stairs at the stadium.
Four members of the Iola and Rural Fire Department – Gregg Schumacher, Jim Irish, Nick Rasmussen and Braden Paulson – were among the people paying tribute. Each of them wore full turn-out gear and a badge containing the picture and name of one of their fallen brothers.
“Those pictures are of the 343 New York City firefighters that perished on September 11th,” Rasmussen said. “They are the people who were in those stair wells and in the halls searching for the victims of the vicious attack on our country. It is the least I can do to help carry their memory.”
“I was 10 years old when 9/11 happened,” Paulson said. “As a fireman you often see the number 343; we have a sticker on every one of our trucks, and the front window of our station. Those pictures now put a name and a face to that number.”
Jim Irish recalled that fateful day.
“I was in college on September 11, 2001,” Irish said. “Being a firefighter hadn’t even crossed my mind at that point in my life. I remember exactly the time and place that I found out what was happening. I will never forget that day.”
“It is an opportunity for me to pay my respects to all of the emergency personnel that responded to the events of 9/11,” said Schumacher. “Especially to the 343 brave souls who made the ultimate sacrifice; true heroes do exist. They risk their lives every day to keep us safe.”
A bell was placed on the course, marking the spot of what would have been the 74th floor of the Trade Center. It was the last floor that dispatch received communications from.
As each climber passed, they rang the bell and read the name on the badge they were wearing.
Some thanked the fallen firefighter they walked for, while other said rest in peace. Maybe the most touching was when one fireman got on his knees and prayed. “This is for you Father Mike,” he said, as he raised his picture up in the air.
Father Mike was the 68-year-old priest and New York Fire Department chaplain.
Pierce Manufacturing, an Oshkosh-based fire equipment company, started the Lambeau Field Memorial Stair Climb last year.
Proceeds from the Memorial Climb go to the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation (NFFF).
“This shows us that not only do they (Pierce) care about firefighting by building quality trucks, they are also dedicated to the firefighting service as a whole,” Rasmussen said.
“It shows that Pierce is dedicated to the ones they manufacture for,” Schumacher said.
Founded in 1992, the NFFF seeks to remember America’s fallen fire heroes, provide resources to assist their survivors, and work with fire departments to reduce firefighter deaths.
“The first stair climb was started by a group of firefighters in Denver, Colorado, who wanted to pay their respects to the sacrifices the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) made that day,” said Ron Siarnicki, NFFF executive director. “It is an approximation, but we believe that over 25,000 people will take part in the NFFF stair climbs this year.”
Following the event, Paulson said he felt tired, “but we did not do anything compared to what they did that day. We just hit a little bit of what they experienced.”
“It really opens your eyes as to what those firefighters went through,” said Karen Irish, who joined her husband Jim on the climb. “They had all their gear on, were going against the flow of people trying to get out. There was smoke, there was fire, it’s heart-wrenching to think about.”
“It was inspiring,” said Toni Schumacher, who climbed with her husband Gregg. “I was awed by the dedication of those on 9/11. All I could think was how did the Fire Department of New York City do it?”
Gregg Schumacher said he felt humbled by his experience Saturday at Lambeau Field.
“I am glad I could finish the climb for them,” he said. “We will never forget.”