BY Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
There are a wide variety of events across the United States every September that honor the memory of those that died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The biggest heroes that emerged from those horrific events were the emergency responders in New York City, particularly the firefighters. 343 New York City firefighters died on Sept. 11, 2001, in an effort to save victims in the Two Towers. Three Commerce firefighters did their part in ensuring that the memory of those individuals will not be forgotten.
Joe Martello, Bruce Millard and Gabe Wittkopf participated in the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stairclimb on Sept. 8. Each firefighter climbed 110 stories in full gear, the height of the Twin Towers, in honor of those that fell on 9/11. Wittkopf represented Jose Guadalupe, Martello represented Christopher Santora and Millard represented Leonard Ragaglia.
“Physically, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Martello said. “I trained by doing stairclimbs at the Cooper High School football stadium.”
The firefighters, along with 340 others from 94 fire departments and four states, climbed Renaissance Tower in Dallas twice, since the building is only 55 stories. Each firefighter climbed in honor of a specific New York City firefighter, carrying an accountability tag with their name on it all the way to the top before placing it on a board on the top story.
“Learning the story of who they were and what the three firefighters did together showed a deeper brotherhood in the fire service that a lot of us here in Commerce try to stress,” Wittkopf said. “It definitely was an honor, no matter how difficult it might have been.”
It took the firefighters 53 minutes to climb the first 55 stories and more than an hour the second time.
“It needs to be honored,” Wittkopf said. “9/11 is one of the things that made me say ‘This is what I want to do.’ I don’t think this is the career choice I would have made had it not been for 9/11, and I think that goes for a lot of the younger firefighters.”
For more information on the 9/11 stairclimb, visit www.dallasstairclimb.com.