MFD firefighters pay tribute by climbing stairs on MSU campus

For the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Murray Fire Department personnel commemorated the flights of stairs climbed by New York City firefighters that fateful day. To recreate the steps, participating firefighters went up the steps of Murray State University’s Old Fine Arts Building multiple times. Pictured in the left row, from top to bottom, Capt. Ronnie Dawson, Blake Lencki, Matt Harris, Zach Stewart and Battalion Chief Steve Lax. In the right row are Assistant Chief Eric Phelps, Capt. Ben Mathis, Lt. Mitchell Downey, Nick Proctor and Jaylen Boling.

MURRAY – As Americans everywhere on Saturday grieved for those lost in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Murray Fire Department personnel remembered in their own way.

As has become an annual tradition for many firefighters across the country, a number of MFD employees remembered the solemn anniversary by recreating the number of flights New York City firefighters had to climb when ascending the World Trade Center after it was hit by two hijacked passenger jets. Assistant Chief Eric Phelps said this was his first Sept. 11 after he was promoted to his current position, so he wanted to commemorate the occasion by doing something he had been thinking about for some time, especially with it being the 20-year anniversary.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Phelps said. “We should participate in that every year, but this is the first year we’ve done something (like climbing steps) formally. I reached out to Susan Miller at Murray State (in the Environmental Safety & Health Department) and they’re always really good to us letting us use their facilities. I thought we could try to mimic some of the memorials that go on across the country doing the stairs. We used the Old Fine Arts Building, and we did the 110 flights. I think it’s roughly over 2200 steps. … It took us a few trips, with that being a nine-story building.”

As one might guess, Phelps said it was a very tiring experience, but it was also a very rewarding way to remember fallen firefighters.

“It gave you some real perspective as to what those guys went through,” Phelps said. “We talked about that the whole time going up and down the steps. And these guys (the NYC firefighters) did  this in full gear carrying high-rise packs and all the tools of the trade of high-rise fires – and knowing that they were marching up 110 flights just to start working. Wow. It was a little overwhelming to think about that.

“It’s something that I think we’ll probably start doing more routinely (in the future).”

Phelps said the MFD has several new recruits that recently started with the department, and they are a reminder of how important it is to memorialize Sept. 11 and to never forget the losses and sacrifices made that day.

“We were doing a meet-and-greet Friday after they did their (all-day orientation) with the city’s HR personnel, and I just thought we would spend the rest of the afternoon meeting with our guys,” Phelps said. “They asked them their ages, and (you realize) wow, these guys are 21, 23, 25. These guys were probably babies or very young children when that happened. I thought it would be really cool for them to see that we still participate in remembering (NYC firefighters) because the fire service is a brotherhood, and they need to know that all the history, the honor and the tradition that they are inheriting come from guys like that in the past. We didn’t do it – we’re just benefitting from sacrifices that guys like that made. And not just (Sept. 11); there’s others.

“We’re stewards of that and we need to honor it, so we’re just trying to instill that in these young firefighters. Hopefully, we’ll be known for that and somebody after me will keep it going.”