Area firefighters and others paid tribute Saturday to those who died 20 years ago in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Individuals from the Northeastern State University Reserve Officer Training Corps, firefighters, and others honored the memory of those who lost their lives, by imitating the heroic actions with a grueling early-morning effort. Paying tribute to first responders who died that day, they undertake the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb by trekking nearly 110 stories at the NSU’s Doc Wadley Stadium – the equivalent of what those heroes climbed in the World Trade Center.
While participants were able to stop, discard their equipment or take a break from the nearly 2,000-step climb, the FDNY didn't have that option. The firefighters just trudged onward to save as many people as they could.
On that day, 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine EMS workers perished in the attacks. More than 3,000 people died and more than 6,000 were injured as four planes were hijacked by terrorists.
Two of those planes crashed into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The third struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane plummeted into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers tried to intervene and prevent it from hitting another site in the capital.
“They went to work that day, not knowing it was their last. They died alongside their brothers and sisters that day, saving people they didn’t even know. Without their heroics, there would have been many more lives lost. We will never know all of the lives they helped save that day,” said Tahlequah Fire Chief Casey Baker.
Afterward, more than 200 firefighters ultimately died from working countless days, weeks, and months at Ground Zero, where their bodies absorbed deadly toxins.
The fire chief quotes from the Gospels every year when he speaks about the tragedy: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” from John 15:13.
Those who remember the attack can pinpoint exactly where they were and what they were doing when they saw or heard the news on that day.
“I was a freshman in high school on Sept. 11, and we were watching it on the television in class,” said Maj. Joseph Winglemire, ROTC instructor. “It’s important to remember not just for the people we lost, but also the way it changed us as a nation.”
Carson Younger, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served 2015-2019, led the group in prayer before the stair climb.
Due to COVID, the TFD didn’t partake in the annual stair climb event last year, and instead held a 9/11 Memorial Service at Station 1.
Assistant Fire Chief Mark Whittmore said the duties of a firefighter remain the same, though their strategies may change.
“The men and women of today’s fire service are confronted with more dangerous work environment than ever before,” Whittmore said. “We are forced to continually change our strategies and tactics to accomplish our tasks. Our methods may change, but our goals remain the same as they were in the past: to save lives and protect property, sometimes at a terrible cost.”
A tradition used by firefighters is the sound of a bell, which has several significant meanings. In the past, as firefighters began their tours of duty, the bell signaled the beginning of that day’s shift, Whittmore explained.
“Throughout the day and night, each alarm was sounded by a bell that summoned these brave souls to fight fires and place their lives in jeopardy for the good of their fellow citizens,” he said. “When the fire was out and the alarm had come to an end, it was the bell that signaled to all the completion of that call.”
The bell also signifies when a firefighter is killed in the line of duty.
“To symbolize the devotion that these brave souls had for their duty, a special signal of three rings, three times each, represents the end of our comrades’ duties and that they will be returning to quarters,” Whittmore said. “To those who have selflessly given their lives for the good of their fellow man, their tasks completed, their duties well done. To our comrades, their last alarm, they are going home.”
The firefighters built a flowerbed funded solely by contributions. Baker said the rock, dirt, flowers, brick, fire hydrant, and water feature were all donated. A 9/11 memorial plaque was later added to the flowerbed.