South Texas firefighters honor first responders lost in 9/11 attacks

Melissa Cantu Trevino
Alice Echo News Journal
Alice Firefighters Robert Valdez and Kevin Figueroa have been suiting up with protective gear and stair climbing at a local gym in preparation for the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.

The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will be commemorated in many ways throughout the nation to honor the tragedy that unfolded that September day. 

For the past six years, Alice firefighter Robert Valdez has been honoring the men and women who lost their lives that day. For the second year, Alice firefighter Kevin Figueroa also will participate.  For the first year Matthew Epitallo will participate.

Valdez and Figueroa will join other firefighters around the nation to climb stairs in memory of the 343 firefighters who ran into the burning buildings. 

Valdez and Figueroa were children  when the attacks on the nation occurred.

"I was a freshman at San Diego High School. I was in Spanish class when the news spread throughout the school. I remember they had us stay in that classroom for half the day as we watched the news in shock," Valdez recalled. "I still remember feeling sad. It was a tragic moment. (I) kept telling myself what can I do to help."

Figueroa was three at the time. He was too young to understand, but as he got older he began to understand the events of that day, the loss of that day and how it affected his fellow Americans.

"I think it's important to continue participating; to honor not just firefighters but everybody who lost (their lives) and those who risked their lives to help," Figueroa said.

At the time of the attacks, the World Trade Center buildings were the tallest in the world with 110 floors each. Each participant will honor the fallen firefighters of the New York City Fire Department by wearing the name and picture of a hero around their neck.

The men have been practicing with their full protective gear. The day of the memorial climb they will once again suit up in full gear because the firefighters, who became American heroes that day, wore their protective gear as they climbed each stair to find and help those injured.

This year, Valdez and Figueroa will be at the San Antonio 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.

Valdez said it is an incredibly symbolic and intensely physical event that provides an annual opportunity to remember fallen first responders, especially those lost on 9/11.

"The climb is not a race and not focused on raising money. It is a remembrance and commemoration of the sacrifices of the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine EMS workers who perished at the World Trade Center. That day will forever serve as the most poignant example and reminder of what only few are willing to do for all: live and give their lives in the service of others. We are inspired by their sacrifices, and we shall NEVER FORGET them," he said.

"I climb every year because the sole mission of the '110 climbs,' created all across the country, is for our brotherhood to honor and remember them. I climb as an opportunity to demonstrate respect and admiration for these courageous men who gave their lives trying to save others. It’s also a way to show their loved ones that we will never forget them," Valdez added.

The event motto is “We climb because they climbed.”