SPEARFISH — In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Spearfish Fire Department celebrated the first responders who were not only prepared to give their lives to save others, but those who ultimately did.
“The idea is that we’re here to remember what they went through and how much they sacrificed to try an save people,” said Spearfish Fire Capt. Don Werner as he addressed a crowd at the Black Hills State University football stadium, Saturday.
After memorial services earlier in the day, members of the department as well as non-department members of the community gathered at the stadium to participate in the stair climbing ceremony.
Werner explained that the firefighters who entered the towers that day would have had to carry extra equipment as they scaled the 110 flights of stairs on their way to the top of the Twin Towers.
“Our (air) packs are supposed to last us 30 to 45 minutes, but how long do you think they last climbing up 110 flights of stairs,” he asked.
Capt. Troy Mullaney demonstrated how they would have carried two additional air packs weighing around 25 pounds each, as well as a length of hose to run down to the water supply on the ground, called a high-rise pack; an additional 42 pounds.
Werner described accounts from survivors as they desperately clamored down the stairs as the intrepid responders worked their way up.
“They said every single one of those firefighters, drenched in sweat, look of determination on their face, and they didn’t miss a single step. They hit every step going up knowing that they may not survive it, but that’s their job, and that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.
All together, 66 responding fire stations lost at least one member of their crew on Sept. 11, totaling 343 firefighters lost, as well as 77 police officers. Countless more are still suffering and dying from health complications related to the smoke and debris from that day.
To touch on the grit and determination shown by those men and women, the Spearfish Fire Department marched up and down the stadium stairs 47 times to simulate reaching the point where the fires were burning in the building. On the 48th round, each participant rang the memorial bell at the highest point the firefighters were able to reach.
“And then, just like FDNY would have done, we’re going to continue,” Werner said.
The participants climbed an additional 21 times for a total of 69 climbs to simulate making it to the top of the building.
“They would have gone to the roof of that building if they had the opportunity, if there was one life to save up there, they would have made it to the top somehow and got them,” Werner explained. “It’s not a race, it’s a remembrance.”
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