Firefighters, law enforcement officers and community members from across the Brazos Valley climbed 110 flights of stairs on Wednesday to honor first responders who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The remembrance ceremonies are meant to mirror the 110 flights of stairs in the World Trade Center. Bryan Fire Department hosted their eighth annual event at the Lake Walk Town Center Observation Tower, while College Station firefighters held the department’s third climb at Aspire College Station.
Bryan firefighter Jacob Zoch and his wife, Meredyth, who have participated in the event since 2011, carried their two children as they climbed the observation tower. Jacob Zoch carries laminated cards with the names and faces of first responders who died in the attacks.
“It re-establishes the core belief that we are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “Regardless of the departments and agencies that we work for, we’re all together. We all fight as one cohesive team.”
Retired pastor Glen Chmelar said he was one of the many ministers who prayed over firefighters at Ground Zero following the attacks. Chmelar said he distinctly remembers the thick dust that covered the area and the emotional toll the event was having on first responders.
“God is good, because people have been healed enough to move on with their lives,” Chmelar said after climbing the observation tower one time. “But on a day like today, the reminder comes to everybody.”
While more than 50 of Bryan’s 146 firefighters attended Wednesday’s event, many attendees traveled from surrounding cities.
Todd Mission Fire Department firefighter Cassandra Malone said she has tried to come to the stair climb for the past three years, but this is the first time she had the day off work.
“I’m walking for my entire station, because they all wanted to be here,” Malone said. “I put their names on the bottle so they’re all here in spirit.
BFD chaplain Ernest Upchurch opened the memorial with a prayer and closed the event with a bell ceremony. Before radios, fire stations used bells to communicate when they would come and go. A safe return was signaled with a series of five rings, three times.
“When an engine came back after fighting a fire, they rang the bell five, five, five,” Upchurch said. “It meant all is home and all is safe. This morning, we ring the bell for those who gave their lives on 9/11. They have made it home and they are safe on the top floor.”
In College Station, 40 first responders from the city and surrounding areas and community members climbed stairs at the Aspire apartment complex.
“It’s not only reflecting on the lives that were lost that day, but the emergency service workers who are still dying from 9/11-related injuries,” said College Station Fire Chief Jonathan McMahan.
This was the third year College Station and Bryan fire departments hosted separate events, since a growing number of participants made a combined ceremony difficult to manage.
College Station firefighter and public information officer Carter Hall said the stair climb allows locals to show their gratitude for the 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers, eight paramedics and 2,600 civilians who died in 9/11.
“We want to honor their memory, cherish what they did and the sacrifices they made on that day,” he said. “It’s a reminder to continue to uphold the values of the fire and law enforcement service and an opportunity for the community to have an outward way to express their appreciation for people who continue to serve.”