Ten Years Later, Firefighters Will Complete Climb for Fallen Brothers
On Sunday, 169 Wisconsin firefighters will climb the steps of the US Bank building to honor the firefighters that lost their lives on 9/11.
One hundred ten stories. It’s the height of the World Trade Center towers, and the distance 169 Wisconsin firefighters will climb Sunday to remember the 343 firefighters who died in the towers ten years ago.
“It’s a memorial that costs me something,” Milwaukee Fire Department Lt. Jordan Ponder, who organized the event, said. “I have to be sweaty, get worn out, have some determination out of me. That will ensure that I will never forget.”
The 9-11 climb is a nationwide commemorative tradition, but this will be the first year that Wisconsin firefighters participate.
One of the first problems Ponder faced in planning the event was where to find 110 stories in Milwaukee. The solution: climb to the 23rd story of the downtown U.S. Bank building three times, then climb all the way to the top floor—number 41.
Each firefighter will carry an ID badge of a firefighter who died in the towers.
North Shore Fire Department Lt. Pete Busalacchi said he expects the face on his badge will carry him through the toughest parts of the climb.
“I picture myself looking down at that badge and getting the strength and courage to continue,” Busalacchi, one of 12 participants from the North Shore Fire Department, said. "You know who you are climbing for. As they say, they couldn’t complete the climb.”
Some of the badges picture friends or family members of climbers; others, like Ponder’s, are strangers.
Ponder will represent Peter Vega, ladder 118.
“I don’t know much about him,” Ponder said. “I know he was 36 years old, survived a family after the attacks. But after I pound 110 floors and ring that bell, and say his name, I’m certain I will never forget who he was.”
Among firefighters, strangers are never very strange to begin with.
“We’re a family,” Ponder said. “When I was in the Philippines, I sat down with some firefighters and we had an immediate connection because we have similar experiences.”
On September 11, 2001, the loss of 343 firefighters in New York City hit home for firefighters everywhere.
“The tragedy of losing 343 firefighters is kind of a reality check for all firefighters,” North Shore Fire Department Firefighter Arlen Spicer said. “We have a dangerous job that we live 24 hours at a time with each other. We know each others’ families and their kids. It’s really an extended family. Even nationally, we see all firefighters as brother and sisterhood. We tend to stick together in that way and do things to help each other out if we can.”
In determined solidarity, firefighters will also be carrying the weight of their “turnout gear”—an extra 30-50 pounds.
Photos of firefighters will line the stairs to encourage the climbers.
“They will remind us that maybe this is kind of tough, but it doesn’t compare to what happened to the firefighters that day,” Milwaukee Fire Department Lt. Schuyler Belott said.
The mantra of the day is “never forget.”
“After the attack, the next day the whole country was together with a feeling of unity, and there weren’t the same concerns there were the day before,” Belott said. “Unfortunately as time passes people forget how they felt that day. It’s important to remember the firefighters and the civilians who lost their lives that day. Never forget.”
The event will start at 9 a.m. with a flag ceremony, prayer, and an address by a New York firefighter at the U.S. Bank building at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. About thirty minutes later, the firefighters will begin their ascent. Spectators are welcome at the ceremony, where firefighters will be collecting donations to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
(Patch editor Jeff Rumage contributed to this report.)