The tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, still echoes in the hearts of firefighters throughout the world, particularly those who were at ground zero 17 years ago. Fire protection students from Oklahoma State University recently stepped up to remember the civilians who lost their lives and honor the fallen heroes.
The Fire Protection Society, a student group at OSU, organized the Third Annual OSU 9/11 Stair Climb Tribute on Sunday, Sept. 16. The annual event pays tribute to the hundreds of firefighters and first responders who lost their lives at the World Trade Center in New York. Participants honor those lost by climbing the equivalent of the 110 stories of the Twin Towers, each carrying name tags of first responders who died. To equal the height of the World Trade Center, participants climbed the five stories of OSU’s engineering building 22 times.
Members from the fire and police departments from both OSU and Stillwater as well as emergency responders from surrounding towns participated. Beau Stevens, a firefighter from the Richardson Fire Department in Texas, made the four-hour drive to pay his respects. Like the firefighters who climbed the stairs in the World Trade Center, Stevens wore full bunker gear, including a self-contained breathing apparatus.
In addition, on Sept. 11, students participated in the Memorial Honor Guard on the lawn of the Edmon Low Library. The fire service honor guard is a tradition used by firefighters to pay their respects and honor those who lose their lives saving others. At precisely 9:59 a.m. Eastern time, the moment the World Trade Center’s South tower fell, student firefighters in full gear stood watch in front of American flags set up to represent the emergency responders who gave their lives.
Student organizers and participants Charles Poppe and Jake Barry are both studying fire protection and engineering at OSU.
“The firefighting community is very tight-knit. One death affects us all,” Poppe said.
The students representing the future of American fire protection stood immobile to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Changing every 15 minutes until 4 p.m., two student firefighters wearing full turnout gear stood in front of a fire truck, each with a ceremonial axe. The ceremony conveys silent emotion and connection with those who answered the call but never returned home on that fateful day.
“Thousands of emergency responders and their families are still suffering,” Poppe said.
The flags also reminded participants of the 49,138 people who have been affected by the toxic substances released when the towers collapsed. Most of these were search-and-rescue workers at the site during the aftermath.
The events also raised funds for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports the survivors of fallen first responders.
Oklahoma State University provides unique higher education and training opportunities in the fire and emergency management fields with a history that dates back to 1931, making it one of the oldest in the nation.
“As students, we honor the fallen by continuing to be pioneers in improving responder safety, techniques and procedures,” Poppe said.