Hoping to draw the same amount of participants as the number of New York City firefighters who perished in the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, Imperial Valley on Sept. 7 paid tribute to all casualties of the terrorism assault of 18 years ago.
The annual Memorial Event and Stair Climb was held at the Imperial Valley Fairgrounds in Imperial. Participants climbed flights of stairs in the fair grandstand in memory of the firefighters lost, and the goal was 343 participants, the same number of firefighters lost on 9/11.
Remember those who made the supreme sacrifice
Alfredo Estrada, Imperial County Fire Department chief and event keynote speaker, explained it was imperative to remember all those who made the supreme sacrifice that day.
“For me, it represents the spirit of American freedom and the continuing fight against terrorism,” said Estrada, just after completing the stair climb. “I think that those who perished should never be forgotten. After two decades, it is this dedicated group of people (stair-climb organizers) teaching our kids the cost of freedom and the price Americans must pay to preserve it.”
The number of participants exceeded the goal. They included dozens of city and county fire fighters, most in full fire gear, climbing the stairs multiple times for a total of 110 flights.
Organized by the Imperial Valley 9/11 Memorial Event and Stair Climb Committee on behalf of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, the group includes a mix of local responders and agencies, noted committee member Tiffinie Macias.
The entry fee was $30. Those choosing not to climb walked around the fair racetrack. The event included fireworks and prize drawings.
Proceeds benefit the Fire Department of New York Counseling Services Unit and programs provided by the NFFF to support the families of the nation’s fallen firefighters.
“We want people to know we’re a community and this brought us all together,” she said. “(Imperial) Mayor (Robert) Amparano challenged each city council to bring a team.”
“In Imperial Valley the memorial is a big thing,” pointed out Amparano. “To support our first responders is another way to say, ‘We’re behind you 100 percent.’”
The organization that had the largest number of participants and raised the most funds—more than $1,100–was the 413 Fitness Center in Imperial owned by Deuce Robertson.
“My whole family, my wife and three children, will be climbing,” said Robertson. “We want to make clear that none of the first responders died in vain. And even though we’re on the opposite coast, we want to let everybody know we care about their sacrifice.”
Typical of the local dedication was Andrew Loper, a Westmorland firefighter. He explained his affinity for the job by noting he grew up in the profession with his father being a battalion chief and his brother an Imperial County firefighter.
“I remember as a kid getting ready for school and seeing it happen in real time,” recalled Loper. “I enjoy helping people so when I was old enough, I joined the fire department to help keep people safe.”
Matthew Zimm, an engineer with the El Centro Fire Department, recalled he was in the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C., and was shipped to South Korea the morning of 9/11.
“We didn’t know what to think of that deployment,” he recalled. “But it’s a great honor to be here tonight, doing the climb, and it’s certainly meaningful.”
Westmorland fire Capt. Paul Skevington said he participated to remember the fire personnel lost that day and that he tries to keep in mind the dangers that exist every time he goes on duty.
“You never know when it might be your last call,” he said. “You tend to forget that after going out on so many calls. We all use vigilance from our training and we all take steps to adjust ourselves to the rigors of the heat.”
Rogelio Espinoza, a reserve Brawley firefighter, was one of the handlers who unfurled the flag draped between the two hook-and-ladder fire trucks at the grandstand.
“I find it’s pretty cool we remember every year what happened on 9/11,” he said. “I see all these heroes (portraits of FDNY firefighters who perished on display) that gave up their lives. It’s good to remember how they were the first on the scene.”
Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer of El Centro Regional Medical Center, led a climb crew from the hospital that included Angelica Bernal, Nickie Wegner and Myrna Ramirez. Edward recalled he was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex., on 9/11. They coordinated with responders to assist with the attack on the Pentagon.
“I didn’t get dispatched with the teams,” he recalled. “I can speak Arabic, so I got involved with special operations. But to me, this (today) is very meaningful to see all this support in Imperial Valley.”