By Alexa Limbach and Brianna Stranieri
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
Hundreds of firefighters, most in full turnout gear, filled M&T Bank Stadium Oct. 28. But they weren’t there to put out a fire. They were honoring their fallen comrades.
Local firefighters along with their friends and family members spent part of the day climbing 110 of the stadium’s steps, representing the 110 stories in the World Trade Center towers where 343 New York City firefighters lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said Josh Macis, a member of Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Company in Middle River, Maryland, who participated in this year’s Sept. 11 Memorial Stair Climb hosted by the Baltimore City Fire Department. “We train all uphill so since this was also downhill it made it a little better. But I couldn’t imagine doing this with clouds of smoke and debris everywhere like those did on Sept. 11. This is the least we could do to honor them.”
Each participant was given a badge with a fallen firefighter’s name and picture to wear while they climbed. Some climbed for someone they knew, others climbed to show support for all whose lives that were taken on 9/11.
“I climbed for Carl Joseph today,” said David Howard, who was also with Bowleys Quarters VFC. “Although I never knew him, every step I took today was in his honor and I’m grateful to have the privilege of wearing his name.”
“I had been a firefighter for two years when 9/11 happened,” Aimee Myers of the Baltimore City Fire Department said. “I wanted to honor my fallen brothers and am looking forward to coming back again next year and the year after that.”
The Stair Climb was a fundraiser that benefits the FDNY Counseling Service Unit. The money also helped defray the costs to send FDNY family members to the annual Memorial Day ceremony and to help fund programs provided by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Ellicott City residents Jane and Dennis Neville, who receive support from the NFFF, lost their son, Brian Neville, nine years ago in the line of duty. Their son was with the Baltimore County Fire Department and died in October of 2008 due to a sudden cardiac arrest.
“We’re the survivor family and we’re the family that nobody wants to join, and trust me, we really don’t want to see any families join us either,” Jane Neville said.
The Neville family climbs in honor of their son each year and continues to urge firefighters and others to stay on top of their health.
“I always ask everyone to please get their physicals, wear their seatbelts, and to just be really careful out there,” Neville said.
The annual event allowed participants to climb as individuals or in teams. Each participant or team had the opportunity to fundraise money for the NFFF.
Team “Happy Hookers” came together Saturday for their first memorial climb. The team climbed in honor of their friend, Bruce Smith Jr., a fire chief at Fort Meade who died in May 2016.
“We went from two to 10 [members] and raised just under $1,000 in one week,” Janice Howlin of the Happy Hookers said.
Like the Happy Hookers, other teams came together to raise money and honor the men and women who risk their lives in the line of duty.
The climb raised $16,991 from over 100 donors, according to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation’s website.
“We’re all here as Americans and we’re here to support one another,” Happy Hookers team member Amy Mauer said.
Emotions ran high for some, especially those who were directly impacted by the Sept. 11 attacks or personally knew one of the fallen firefighters.
But all participants were able to complete the climb with a smile on their faces as they rang the bell at the finish line to signify those they were climbing for. Some rang the bell several times if they were climbing for more than one person.
This was the seventh annual Sept. 11 Memorial Stair Climb the Baltimore City Fire Department has hosted, but only the second year it was held in M&T Bank Stadium.