Hundreds of firefighters and their families gathered at Belmont Park in Elmont on Sunday morning to climb 110 flights of stairs in memory of their brothers and sisters who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
Participants were taking the stairs, some in full firefighting gear, at the race track for the third year of the fundraiser that has raised nearly $150,000 annually, said FDNY Captain Frank Leto, of Garden City.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 34 years, so many of the men and women that were lost were close and personal friends,” Leto said. “I think about them when I’m climbing. I think about their families and what they’ve been going through the last 16 years.”
Each climber received a tag with a photo and name of a firefighter who has been killed in the line of duty. As they complete the climb, each person read the name of their firefighter and rang a bell to honor that individual.
Many firefighters chose to do the climb in full gear to more closely recreate the experience of climbing the 110 flights of the Twin Towers.
Event proceeds go to the FDNY Counseling Services Unit and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, officials said.
“Our role is really to support the men and women that do the job every day,” said Leto, who is also deputy director of counseling services at the CSU. “The job is a difficult job and they are facing trauma on a regular basis. Sometimes they have to come in and have a tune up.”
Despite the fun nature of the event, it is still fraught with emotion as firefighters remember those who have died in the line of duty.
“It’s still hard for us to look at their pictures,” said John Bruckner, of Middletown, a retired FDNY battalion chief.
Cody Stamberger, an FDNY firefighter, echoed those sentiments.
“I came to the department as an EMT 12 days prior to 9/11,” he said. “Just seeing that … changed me. It makes you have a better appreciation for what you have; what other guys were forced to give up to save other people’s lives. Every life that we saved that day is owed to those guys.”
Of the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11, 343 were firefighters. Each year, as New Yorkers pledge to “never forget,” it’s important that those lives also be remembered, said Victoria Ardis, of Westbury, an EMT with the FDNY and volunteer EMT with the East Meadow Fire Department.
“I climb because 343 firefighters ran into the buildings that day and I want to give them respect,” she said.