Local firefighters honor 9/11 heroes with stair climb at World Trade Center
By Chris Yow
TRUSSVILLE — September 11, 2001 is a date etched into the minds of Americans. That day, nearly 3,000 people died in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Of those who died, 343 of them were firefighters.
Three years ago, John Mills, whose father was among the victims, and Chris Barber, an Auburn graduate who moved to New York City to work for FDNY, wanted to honor those who died. The result is what is now known as the New York City Firefighter Stair Climb.
The climb is held each year in March, and this year two local men volunteered to honor the fallen and join the climb. Trussville resident and Hueytown firefighter JP Powell and Trussville Fire and Rescue employee Evan Massey each went to New York City for the event,
Massey had to persuade Powell to go with him, but the two were able to strike a deal.
“The deal was I would do this if he would run the Mercedes half marathon with me,” Powell said. “It worked out because that ended up being how we trained. If you can run a half, you can climb some stairs.”
Massey said the stair climb was tough, but knowing why they were climbing was motivation. In fact, the event only allows 343 participants. Each participant is given a badge with the name and photo of one of the fallen.
“It makes it real when you see where this happened and put a face and name to the people you’re honoring,” Powell said. “When they first send you the email of the person you’re climbing for, the first thing you do is go to Google and start researching them. When you start diving in and researching these people, it’s surreal.”
When Massey searched for the man he was climbing in honor of, he knew this was something he wanted to do.
“Richie Muldowney was on Ladder 7. There’s probably 20 minutes of YouTube videos on this guy,” Massey said. “I watched them before I went, and it hit me that he was who I was climbing for. When you put a story to your climb, it gives you a sense of purpose.”
Being in New York City at the site of this tragedy can give off an uneasy or even scary feeling.
“It was eerie walking down by the memorial knowing nearly 3,000 people died in this one little area,” Powell said. “Watching it on TV was one thing, but actually going down there and seeing the footprint of the buildings is really crazy.”
Of the 343 firefighters, Massey said many of them were from all over the globe. All wearing their gear, better known as turnouts in the industry, those 343 men climbed in honor of someone who died. It didn’t matter where the firefighters were from, each of them were there for the same reason.
“No matter where you’re at, we do the same job. We’re all one across the world,” Massey said.
But all of those who showed up in their honor were there because they wanted to be there. Massey said it feels different when you think about the reason those men and women went into the buildings on September 11.
“They went to work that day just like we do,” he said. “They were just doing their job, trying to get to the top. It was just another day for them. We just signed up to climb stairs.”
Once they were climbing the focus was on the climb, but there were some obvious differences from their experience.
“We had water stations throughout, and they didn’t have that luxury,” Massey said of those who fought that fire. “They had gear on and they were going to work. They climbed 78 stories and that’s the highest they got. They reached the bottom fire floor and they went to work.”
When Powell and Massey reached that floor, the feeling of pride hit them.
“When we were up on the 78th floor, you can look down on the reflecting pools it’s kind of surreal,” Powell said. “Looking at all the names of the ones who died around the reflecting pools. They probably had zero thought in their mind about the south tower collapsing. Nobody thought it was really possible.”
Climbing 78 flights of stairs in full turnouts didn’t seem possible for Powell and Massey when they began training, but when they finished — it was worth it.
Powell finished 114th overall and Massey finished 116th in the race, but their experience wasn’t about the race.
“At first you don’t think about anything but climbing,” Powell said.
But when it was over, the pride hit. Not only did these two local heroes climb the steps of the new World Trade Center for themselves, but they did it for the men and women who died fighting to save the lives of Americans.