PRINCETON — Some firefighters and police officers wore heavy rescue gear and other participants wore weighted vests as they climbed up steep bleachers and ran to honor the fallen first responders who rushed to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Local firefighters, police and rescue squad personnel along with their friends and families came early Saturday morning to the Anne S. Hunnicutt Stadium for a memorial stair climb recognizing the firefighters, police and EMS personnel who answered the call when hijacked airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center’s iconic Twin Towers.
Lt. Rick Shagoury with the City of Princeton Fire Department described how local first responders planned to honor the people who died in the line of duty that day 20 years ago.
“Today we are honoring the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 and we’re honoring the 343 firefighters that died that day, the civilians that died that day, the 60 police officers that died that day, the 55 military personnel that died and the eight EMS personnel that passed away that day,” Shagoury said. “So we’re honoring their lives by climbing 110 stories, which is the goal they were trying to accomplish that day.”
The stadium was used to simulate the climb that first responders were facing when they reached the Twin Towers.
“We’re going to be climbing up and down the bleachers on the home and visitor’s side, and it’s going to be several trips up and down the bleachers,” he said. “There’s U.S. marshals here, there’s law enforcement, there’s students here, there’s a bunch of people here.”
To climb 110 stories is the equivalent of 2,071 steps, he said.
“We’re partnered with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation with this, so all of the proceeds from this event is going to benefit them,” Shagoury said. “And we’re carrying name tags of the fallen firefighters so all the climbers and everybody in attendance is carrying the name tag of a firefighter who died that day.”
For some participants, the events of 9/11 are a childhood memory.
“I was in the second grade, and I remember the principal come in and tell us,” said Sgt. E.G. Nunn of the Princeton Police Department. “I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was that something bad had happened and we would never forget. And as I got older, I learned more and more about it.”
Nunn and his brother Capt. Kenneth Nunn of the Bluewell Volunteer Fire Department were on duty that day just like the first responders who answered the call when the Twin Towers were attacked. Unless the brothers received a call, they were going to do the memorial climb.
Casey Gunnoe of Mercer County did part of the climb before she needed a quick break to stretch again. Feeling the strain made her appreciate what the first responders at the World Trade Center endured on 9/11.
“It was a lot,” she said. “I really feel for those who gave their lives that day. It gives you a whole other perspective of the first responders, especially since my dad is Keith Gunnoe, retired from the fire department, and my brother Alec who works there, and my boyfriend is a police officer for the City of Princeton, so just all the way around.”
When participants finished the symbolic stair climb, they rang a bell and read off the name tags of the 9/11 first responders that they were carrying. John Jewell of Lashmeet made the climb while carrying about 25 pounds of weight in his vest.
“It’s just to honor the fallen of 9/11,” he said after ringing the bell and reading off the name Assistant Chief Gerard A. Barbara, city-wide tour commander. “They had more weight than I had, yes, but it kind of puts stuff in perspective. What they were running into was a building that was burning and falling down.”
Some firefighters made the stair climb while wearing about 100 pounds of gear. One who declined to give his name said that the firefighters climbing into the towers were also towing 100-foot fire hoses behind them, raising the weight they were carrying to about 160 pounds. Three local firefighters representing different departments had nine tags bearing the names of 9/11 firefighters Dennis M. Mulligan, Kenneth B. Kumpel, Gerard T. Nevins, Gerard Patrick Schrang, Michael J. Cawley, James M. Amato, John G. Chipura, Michael Paul Ragusa and Eric Taube Olsen.
“It’s a very humbling exercise,” John Lowe, a volunteer firefighter with the City of Princeton Fire Department, said as he prepared to climb another set of stairs. “It’s just a very sad day for our nation and our firefighters. I just hope nobody ever forgets the 343.”