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13 Local Firefighters Participate in 9/11 Stair Climb Event

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By Kat Russell, New Era Photojournalist.  
Published in KY New Era on September 8, 2013.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Firefighter and emergency medical technician Spencer Wood was hired by Hopkinsville Fire Department on Sept. 11, 2000, one year before the terrorist attacks toward the U.S.

His hire date had no real significance to him. But a year later and subsequent years, Sept. 11 took on a whole new meaning for him and many people worldwide.

As the 12th anniversary of what could be called one of the worst days in American history approaches, more than 300 firefighters from seven states climbed 110 stories in the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower in Nashville on Sunday in remembrance of the 343 firefighters and paramedics who lost their lives at the World Trade Center in New York.

Teams, including two from Hopkinsville Fire Department, started climbing around 9 a.m. after a brief opening ceremony and finished around 1 p.m.

Thirteen local firefighters participated; Wood was one of them.

Each team made four trips, climbing up 28 stories each trip. Participants each carried photo IDs of a New York Fire Department firefighter who died on Sept. 11. When a team completed its fourth climb, members came out into the plaza and announced their team. Each person read the name of the firefighter they had carried with them and rang a silver bell in his or her honor.

Spence Sowell, 32, has been a firefighter in Hopkinsville for nine years. This was his second year participating in the climb. He said the climb was something he believed in doing.

“I’m a fireman,” Sowell said. “I feel connected to these guys who lost their lives, and I want to pay tribute to them for giving their lives. Every year that I can, I’m going to climb for them so their legacy lives on. I don’t want them to ever be forgotten.”

Sowell said that when the 9/11 attacks occurred, he was working for Budweiser. His wife was pregnant at the time. Sowell remembers thinking of his unborn child that day and, in a sense, losing faith in the world. It’s one of the reasons he became a firefighter, he said.

“Seeing (the attacks) and knowing that those guys gave their lives for all those people made me want to risk my life for our local people,” he said.

For Capt. John Burke, 38, it was his third year at the climb. He said he was working when the attacks occurred and he has carried the events of that day with him since.

“This is a small way for me to try to pay back (those who died) and to carry on and honor the tradition,” Burke said. “It’s a good opportunity to lead from the front and set a good example for the younger men.”

For Hopkinsville firefighter Curtis Nightingale, 40, this was his first time participating. He said he had wanted to do before, but it hadn’t worked out schedule-wise until this year.

“It’s kind of neat to remember those guys and promote health and fitness in the fire service at the same time,” he said.

While the firefighters climbed, families and friends set up camp in the tower’s plaza while watching, on big-screen TVs, as teams climbed past cameras placed in some of the stairwells.

Many were emotional. During the opening ceremony, a tape of 9-1-1 calls and NYFD radio recordings was played as well as some audio from news clips. They were graphic and heartbreaking and many of the people listening cried.

The sadness in the beginning, however, was only outmatched by the excitement of the crowd and the firefighters as they finished their fourth laps and rang the bell for the firefighters they had carried with them.