Story and photos by Melody Mendoza
“I want to say it gets easier,” he said, shaking his head side to side. Dressed in full uniform, carrying his helmet by his side and wearing a breathing apparatus still on his back, sweat poured down his face as he recalled the last time he climbed these stairs in February for the Tower Climb and Run for cystic fibrosis.
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City where more than 3,000 people were killed. Here, and in cities around the nation, communities are remembering the fallen firefighters and victims.
In San Antonio, there were four events to commemorate the tragedy.
This is the first time Garcia and 25 firefighters from here and surrounding cities came together to climb the equivalent of 110 floors in honor of the 343 firefighters who sacrificed their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We do it for them,” Garcia said. “It was nice to mark the day.”
Accompanying local firefighters were their families, residents of San Antonio and put simply by one, just Americans, who were at the tower by 6:45 a.m. to “Remember their Steps” at the first Patriot Day Tower Ascent.
Ruth Perez, event coordinator and member of Family Educators Alliance of South Texas (FEAST), said since 9/11, the stairs of the Tower of the Americas have been closed. But when members of FEAST, which hosted today’s ceremony, approached the tower’s administrators about the event, it was immediately approved.
She said she had attended a similar climb in Baltimore, MD, hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and saw the impact it had there.
“There was not a dry eye there,” Perez said.
The event is also held in Dallas, Austin, Corpus Christi and in about 20 other cities in the United States.
Firefighters and other climbers wore a sticker with the picture and name of one of the fallen firefighters. They also carried what firefighters say can amount to 100 pounds of gear worn as they climbed each step.
Joseph Ritchey wore the name of David J. Fontana, fallen New York Fire Department firefighter from Squad One, which lost 12 of its members on 9/11.
Ritchey said he was proud and honored to have climbed the Tower of the Americas.
As a firefighter who sacrifices his life everyday, he said, “It’s an honor to be looked up to and to help people …. to work as a team and go home safely the next day.”
Ritchey was accompanied by his mother, Barbara Ritchey, who said she gets scared knowing he’s a firefighter, but knows it is what he wants to do.
“I’m proud of him for wanting to do this today,” she said. “We don’t want to forget the men and women.”
Although the almost 30-minute climb was difficult, Garcia said he would have done what the fallen firefighters did on that day.
“You kind of have to,” he said. “You’re in this job …. it’s a job of giving.
“We don’t do it for self glory. That’s just the type of person a firefighter is.”