Three hundred and forty-three firefighters went up 110 flights of stairs, 18 years ago on September 11, and never returned to their families and friends.
On Saturday, Sept. 7 and on Wednesday, Sept. 11, two local men, Robert and Matt Valdez, participated in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in Dallas and San Antonio. The San Diego natives have climbed for the past several years to honor the first responders who lost their lives due to the attacks in 2001 on American soil.
The 9/11 attacks killed almost 3,000 people when four airplanes were hijacked. Two planes hit the World Trade Center Towers in New York, one plane crashed into the Pentagon and the fourth into a field in Pennsylvania.
It's a day that can't be forgotten by Americans, Robert said.
Robert has climbed for five years and Matt for six years. Robert represents Alice Fire Department and the Alice Professional Fire Fighter Union Local 4102. Matt represents San Antonio and San Diego Fire Departments.
Each first responder who climbs represents one of the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine medical technicians who were killed in the terrorist attacks. Each life lost is carried with each climber as a picture and a name tag dangle from a firefighter’s neck.
Robert continues the yearly tradition “to honor those we lost.”
“It's a big part of American history. I do it for them; my family, my (fire department brothers),” he said. “Normally, we represent one specific individual who lost their life that day. This year, we decided to represent the post firefighters.”
Post firefighters are firefighters who were a part of 9/11, but died after the terroristic attack from illnesses related to that fateful day.
“Many times we focus on the 343 (firefighters) that died on 9/11. What about those who survived that day, but passed later,” Robert said. “They were still a part of 9/11. We climb to remember them as well. That way they aren't forgotten.”
Robert and Matt climb in their protective gear, just as firefighters did that day. The gear weights approximately 75 pounds.
“We dress in our gear because that's how firefighters were dressed that day. It's not an easily climb with or without gear. When you feel like giving up you think of the firefighters who rushed into the stressful environment, not knowing what was in store for them. You think of their final seconds doing what they were called to do with no worries about their own lives,” Robert said. “The climb is hard. You look to your fellow firefighters climbing with you and to the pictures of first responders who died on the walls as you climb each flight of stairs.”
It's a yearly tradition for the brothers. Robert recalls exactly where he was, what he was doing and who he was with in 2001 as a sophomore at San Diego High School.
“We have to remember that many young adults, today, were in kinder or not born yet. They don't feel the full impact who what happened,” Robert said. “We need to remember. We need to think of those who died that day and those they left behind.”
“We climb because they climbed,” Robert said is the motto of each memorial climb.