Eighteen long years have passed since September 11, 2011 when 2,996 people were killed and more than 6,000 others injured in a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks on American soil.
Among them were 343 firefighters and 61 law enforcement officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to rescue victims of the senseless crimes.
Those brave men and women were those being remembered Saturday, Sept. 7 at the Oklahoma City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb where 404 emergency service providers (active, retired and volunteer) climbed 110 flights of stairs that represent 110 floors of one “Twin Tower” that collapsed during the attack on America.
Coweta firefighter Captain Ben Neff took part in the stair climb as he has done in six previous years.
But what made this year’s climb different was he completed the task twice — conquering 220 flights in full bunker gear — to honor two of the fallen heroes as one scheduled participant was unable to attend at the last minute.
On Neff’s first climb, he carried the name badge of Jeffrey Stark, a firefighter on New York City Fire Department’s Engine 230. His second climb was in memory of Firefighter Peter J. Carroll on Squad 1.
“For me, it’s humbling when you have such a gathering of firefighters from across the state and from other states who come to memorialize the brother and sisters we lost on September 11,” Neff said. “It is a burden of pleasure that I’m carrying the names and pictures of real heroes around my neck.
“We who are climbing are not the real heroes — we’re paying homage to those who are. We still get to go home to our families every day. We still get to do Fill the Boot, to respond to structure fires and have the family experience at the fire house and enjoy our loved ones.”
Neff said the men and women who responded on 9/11 may very well have known they would give their lives that day so that others may live.
“There are multiple documented cases of firefighters getting people out and staying behind. They continued to climb the stairs as they got civilians out. That’s why it is important that we do not forget,” Neff reminded.
The Coweta fire captain said on September 11, 2001, the landscape of this country effectively changed.
“In so many public addresses we have heard, ‘We will never forget’, but many of their policies and attitudes have belied that idea,” Neff said. “We will not forget this happened to America, and that these people lost their lives. The Memorial Climb honors not only the firefighters and police officers, but it also represents all of the civilians we lost and the more than 200 first responders who have died from 9/11 illnesses since then, ranging from cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to suicide.”
Also among the participants in the Oklahoma City 911 Memorial Stair Climb were former Coweta firefighters Keith Deakins with the Owasso Fire Department and Josh Whitekiller with the Broken Arrow Fire Department.
Neff plans to participate in a second 9/11 Memorial Stair Club Wednesday, Sept. 11 in Tulsa. He will be joined by fellow Coweta firefighters Eric Denisen and Scott Riggs.