WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (4/16/13) - Two members of the Providence Fire Department recently had the unique opportunity to pay tribute to the fire fighters who lost their lives on 9-11.
Matt Keith and Alex Zielinski, both of Evansville, joined other fire fighters at the FDIC 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lucas Oil Stadium, held in conjunction with the Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis, IN.
“There were 343 firefighters, one for each firefighter who died on 9-11, and the goal was to climb 110 stories to represent each story of the tower,” said Matt Keith. “We had to go to the top of the stadium and back down until we reached 110.”
Each of the 343 firefighters was issued the name of one of their brethren who fell on 9-11-01. Keith had the name of Gregory Buck of Engine 201, and Zielinski carried the name of William E. Krukowski of Engine 21.
“We had to climb the full length of the tower, but they never made it,” Zielinski said. “On the third lap each of us had to ring a bell to symbolize the point (the 9-11 firemen) made it to (about 80 stories).”
Both men agreed that one of the most unbelievable parts was that at that point the men and women who had responded to the tower were just getting started.
“I can’t imagine going as far as they did, and your job is just starting,” Zielinski said. “After my first lap I felt like my feet were in concrete.”
Firefighters were not required to make the stair climb in their full gear, but like most of those in attendance, Keith and Zielinski felt like they needed to in order to honor the memory of those who fell on 9-11.
“It was a very emotional experience,” said Zielinski. “A lot of the guys who were there were carrying the names of guys they knew who died.”
“One of the fire chiefs carried a rubbing he had done at the Fire Fighters’ Memorial Wall,” Keith added.
The pair spent two months preparing for the event, and both agreed that it wasn’t enough.
“It’s the hardest thing I ever did,” Keith said.
The first stair climb held to support the mission of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation was held on September 11, 2005. On that day five Colorado firefighters convened at a high-rise building in downtown Denver to climb 110 flights of stairs in memory of their FDNY brothers who were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9-11. The following year, 12 firefighters participated, representing four fire departments from the metro Denver area. Each subsequent years, attendance grew, until it was capped at 343 participants in 2008.
Since its beginning, the Denver 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb has evolved into a much anticipated annual events, and generated interest from individuals across the country who hoped to adapt the format and host an event in their cities. In 2010, the original Denver team partnered with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to create a template that would enable coordinators to successfully replicate a 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb anywhere in the United States.
In recent years several stair climbs have even altered their rules to allow private citizens to take part as well.
The 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb is not a race, but an opportunity to honor and remember the 343 FDNY members who selflessly gave their lives so that others might live.
The Stair Climbs are meant not only to honor the 343 firefighters who died on 9-11-2001, it also helps to raise money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).
Congress created NFFF to lead a nationwide effort to honor America’s fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the non-profit Foundation has developed and expanded programs that fulfill that mandate. Their mission is to honor and remember America’s fallen fire heroes and to provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives.
J-E News Editor
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