Local firefighters 'complete' climb begun by heroes of September 11
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Climbing 110 stories … 1,100 stairs — in McCook, the equivalent is 60 Keystone Business Centers — is physically exhausting.
But the hardest part of the climb lies at the end, back at the beginning … where a solemn firefighter in full dress uniform reads the name of a fellow firefighter killed in the New York City fire departments' response to the burning and crumbling Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City on Nov. 11, 2001.
McCook firefighter Rick Metcalf remembers, at the end of his second memorial stair climb, on April 12 in Indianapolis, Ind., "You're already physically drained. But you know the worst part … the emotional part … is still coming .. when they read the name of 'your' firefighter, and they ring the bell. I've bawled each year."
For the 2 1/2 hours of the 2019 "9-11 Memorial Stair Climb," each of the five City of McCook firefighters participating carried the name of one or two of the 343 FDNY first responders killed in the line of duty the day that terrorists were hell-bent on killing Americans and breaking the spirit of the country.
McCook firefighter Shane Smith, whose April 12 stair climb was his third, explained, "We're not climbing only to honor those who were killed, but to symbolically 'complete' each one of those firefighters' unfinished climb to the top of the Twin Towers."
Five McCook firefighters who participated in the 2019 memorial stair climb carried the names of these members of FDNY:
Shane has carried the names of six firefighters in three memorial stair climbs: Paul Hanlon Keating of Ladder 5 and Capt. William F. Burke Jr., of Engine 21, in 2014; firefighters Frank J. Bonomo of Engine 230 and Peter J. Carroll of Squad 1, in 2016; and Stephen Russell of Engine 55 and Kevin Smith of Hazmat 1, in 2019.
Rick has honored firefighters Thomas J. Kuveikis of Squad 252 and Carl J. Bedigian of Engine 214 in 2016; and Battalion Chief John P. Williamson in 2019.
Dan Hartwell has participated in two memorial stair climbs, honoring Hazmat 1 this year.
This was Preston Hueftle's and Luke Rinehart's first stair climb. Preston honored Ladder 4; and Luke climbed for Scott Matthew Davidson, Ladder 118.
Inside Lucas Oil Stadium, only the up-stairs were counted toward the 1,100 stair total. Shane explained, "We climbed to the top row of seats in the stadium, down one flight, across and up again, across and down and across and up again, and again and again, on both sides of the arena."
It's not a competition to see who finishes first.
Stadium stairs are one height; the escalator is turned off, and its steps are taller.
So, you'd think "down" the stairs would be easy, with gravity on your side? No. "Going down is worse," Rick said," because your legs are cramping all the way down."
Shane and Rick started and finished the climb with their air packs strapped to their backs. Bunker gear, boots, helmets and air packs added about 45 pounds of weight to each of their tall, lean frames.
The physical exertion and the event ends after 2 1/2 hours. "Luckily, we get to ride the escalator down," Rick says, grinning.
Oh, but then there's that bell-ringing … So many physically-strong firefighters fight their emotions and tears, and lose …
A total of 660 firefighters from all over the country started the stair climb in Indianapolis this year. They raised $47,053; Shane himself raised $715 of that total.
One hundred percent of all funds raised goes to the "National Fallen Firefighters Foundation," which supports families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Congress created the NFFF in October 1992 to lead a nationwide effort to honor America's fallen firefighters. Its mission is to honor and remember America's fallen fire heroes, to provide resources to assist their survivors in rebuilding their lives, and to work within the Fire Service Community to reduce firefighter deaths.
The Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization located in Emmitsburg, Md. It is registered as a corporation in the State of Maryland. The Foundation receives funding through private donations from grants, caring individuals, organizations, corporations and foundations.
To learn more about the NFFF or to donate in honor of McCook's five firefighters who honored their fellow firefighters in the 2019 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb, go to Facebook or m.me/NationalFallenFirefightersFoundation; write to National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 16825 S. Seton Ave., Emmitsburg, MD 21727; or call (301) 447-1365.