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Firefighters collect pledges for 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb
Each of the 343 hold onto a photograph and an accountability tag with a name etched onto it. Each one climbs in groups. Each one carries a story to be remembered.
On Sept. 8, 343 firefighters will climb 110 stories at the Dallas Renaissance Tower as part of the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb to honor the 343 New York City firefighters who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001. This year, the event will be open to the public.
Participating firefighters will wear 40-60 pounds of gear to climb the arduous 110 flights of stairs while carrying an accountability tag representing one of the 343 New York City firefighters who died from the Sept. 11 attacks. Each one will be assigned into respective companies and will climb together in these groups.
Last year 89 fire departments from four states participated in the event, representing the 343 firefighters. This year, 91 fire departments from areas including The Colony, Flower Mound, Plano, McKinney and more will participate, including three firefighters from Little Elm--Jon Bailey, Trent Espinosa and Kevin Hartless.
"There are a number of reasons why [to participate]. The biggest is to show support for those that gave their all," Bailey said. "The 343 firefighters that went into a burning building [on 9/11] knew that they may not be returning from the incident."
During the climb on Sept. 8, firefighters will halt their climbing at each moment the towers fell, first at 9:59 a.m. and then at 10:28 a.m. They will activate their PASS devices, or distress alert devices, and TAPS will be played before a moment of silence will be observed.
When firefighters reach the top of the building, they will place their accountability tag on a board and ring a bell, signaling the firefighter on the tag has reached the top. The climb focuses on paying tribute to the fallen and remembering the challenges and sacrifices they faced on that fateful day.
"I think right now, I don't think words can describe how I'll feel [at the top]," Bailey said.
Bailey decided to put together a team from Little Elm to participate in the event this year after learning more about it from Little Elm firefighter Marshall Leak, who participated last year in the first Dallas Climb and is helping coordinate the event this year.
The original climb the Dallas one is based on first began in 2005 when five Colorado firefighters climbed 110 stories in downtown Denver to remember those who fell on Sept. 11. From there, the climb has started to spread across the nation after the first climb partnered with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
After participating in the first 9/11 Memorial Stair climb hosted by the NFFF in March 2011 in Indiana, Plano firefighter John Barrett brought the event to Dallas last September.
"Emotionally it's an honor to do it. It's the least I could do for the guys we lost that day," Espinosa said. "I think I speak for Jon Bailey and Kevin and myself, it really is a privilege to be able to do something like this."
For Espinosa, the climb has a deeper meaning to him than some participating--he has family members who live in New York and are a part of the New York Fire Department. On the day of the attacks, his uncle, who's a firefighter, happened to be off work that day and a cousin of Espinosa's was working on a building just 12 blocks from the Twin Towers.
"My wife is from New York, so I had been up there and visited the Twin Towers. When [the attacks] happened, it was eye-opening--I'll never forget where we were," Espinosa said.
Getting to participate in the climb means a lot to Espinosa, who sees the climb as a privilege to be a part of and a way to preserve the memory of the firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice that day.
"For all of us, it's going to be overwhelming, that's the best way for me to put it. I get physically choked up over it even just talking about it. It means a lot, it really does," Espinosa said.
He has no doubt he will reach the top and place that tag, the name he will carry, on the board.
"I've got my brothers beside me. I'll make it. On all fours or on my feet, I'll make it," Espinosa said.
As part of the climb's requirements, the local firefighters are collecting pledges for the event at $1 per floor. The goal for the Dallas Climb is to raise $37,730. Each firefighter has a goal of raising $110 worth of pledges, and teams have their own personal goals as well. The Little Elm team of three has already surpassed their goal of $330 with their pledge page showing $430 donations as of Wednesday.
"Friends and family are very supportive at what we're doing and what the cause is for," Bailey said. "As a team, the event coordinator sets the goal at $1 per floor. Just through friends and family, we've exceeded that goal. Anything outside of that goal is that much better."
Proceeds from the pledges will be donated to the Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force, which will support to families and departments who have lost a firefighter, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and the Twin Towers Orphan Fund.
Bailey met his personal goal of $110 in just the first week and has upped his pledges to $10 per floor on it. For him, being able to participate in the climb is a way to show support for the fallen firefighters and their families.
"To me, that's king of neat to be a part of it at the beginning stages," Bailey said. "This is something that will be going on forever. Anybody in the fire service, we pledged to never forget. It'll get bigger and better each year."
Visit www.active.com/donate/2012dallasstairclimb/LEFD2012 to donate to the Little Elm team.
While collecting pledges, Bailey, Espinosa and Hartless have been training since July for the climb by running up the central fire station's five flights of stairs 22 times from top to bottom, five or six times a week. The actual climb is not a race, but more of a walk, but the trio hopes the running will condition them to be prepared for the day.
"It's going to be physically demanding, but we're training for it and to be in the best condition for it. It's going to be an emotional day for all of us, and that's just not for the three of us, but all the 343 men and women out there that day," Espinosa said.
The Dallas Climb is still in need of volunteers to help pass out water to the participating firefighters. Visit www.dallasstairclimb.com to learn more about the event or to volunteer. If volunteering is not in the cards, the NFFF also accept donations at the event. Checks should be made out to NFFF with Dallas Stair Climb written in the memo.
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