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Local firefighters honor fallen

Five firefighters from Pittsburg traveled to Wichita, Saturday, September 8, to take part in the 2018 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.  

Local firefighters Terry Powell, Matt Stringer, Jacob Silvers, Brian Main, and fire marshal Tom Vacca took part in the climb to honor 343 first responders who lost their lives during the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City.   

On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Two of the planes were flown into the Twin Towers, a third plane hit the Pentagon, just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. 2,996 people were killed during the 9/11 attacks. 

Memorial stair climbs pay tribute to first responders who lost their lives on Sept 11.  The firefighters climbed 110 floors, the height of the former World Trade Center, in full gear. Officials at the Epic Center in Wichita assigned each climber a badge with the name and picture of one of the 343 lost lives.  

“Initially I was given the name of Matthew Barnes,” Matt Stringer said.  

“He was a firefighter for ladder 25…  but when we got there, unfortunately they were unable to get  

together the 343 people to participate…so I was given another firefighter; his name was Ronald Kerwin.  He was a lieutenant with Squad 288,” Stringer said. 

“I actually climbed for two gentlemen,” Powell said, “Michael Camarata and Gerald Atwood.  Michael was only 22 at the time of his death.” 

Fire chief and PSU alumni Mike Simons said he was “proud of his department members.”   

“It takes a lot of strength and endurance to climb 110 flights of stairs. It’s not an easy task, even though my guys are in really good shape,” Simons said.  

“It’s something they needed to train for, and I’m very proud of them…(for) their heartfelt desire to do this for our fallen brothers and sisters…it’s a big deal for us.  I’m very proud,” Simons said.  

Registration for the event started in June 2018.  

“We signed up a couple months out so we could train,” Powell said.   

“Then towards the end there, we were given who we were climbing for…a lot of guys will actually call the families…and let them know, ‘hey, we’re still thinking about these guys,’ it’s been 17 years, but we’re still thinking about them,” Powell said.  

“You always remember, you know exactly where you were (on 9/11),” Powell said. 

“…keeping those firefighters in the back of my mind was definitely… a big push,” Stringer said.   

“They had all the (fallens’ pictures) in the stairwell as you went up—all the way up to the 24th…” Stringer said, “…so you got to walk by and look at them.  I found both my guys, and I got to go by every time give them a little fist bump… it was a very emotional and physically trying experience.” 

“…doing what we do, there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have that in the back of our minds—especially those of us that saw it.  You know, we weren’t there,” Powell said, “but we were there.”  

The memorial climbs are designed to evoke memories of the experience of those first responders we lost on 9/11. 

“You walked in and and you’re standing there, looking at it going ‘okay now, it’s not even close to what those guys went through…’” Powell said.  “…and service veterans are there to thank you as every group goes in, they’re there shaking hands… it’s just very, very prideful.”  

“…they were thanking us for things that we should be thanking them for…that was kind of humbling to see,” Powell said. 

“You know, I didn’t know going into (the climb) what to expect,” Stringer said. “I had tons of support from my family… they were excited I was doing it; and then I got back, and they were all very appreciative of all of our efforts, so it was really amazing,” Stringer said.     

“That right there is a true testament as to why a lot of us do this job,” Stringer said.  “We signed up to                                     help people, and anytime someone says thank you, I’m thanking you,” he said, “I’m here for you, that’s my job.  I appreciate those who are appreciative of our efforts, and I appreciate them for giving me the opportunity to do what we do,” Stringer said. 

The Memorial Stair Climb is a sanctioned event of the Memorial Stair Climb Association and proceeds benefit the New York City Fire Department fire family transport fund.  The fund provides transportation for firefighters battling illnesses related to 9/11, as well as bereavement relief for affected victims and their families.   

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