Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Virtues like love, unity and sacrifice were on the minds of those who gathered Tuesday in Downtown Albuquerque to remember those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Seventeen years ago, jihadist hijackers took control of four commercial airliners, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York and a third into the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth jet crashed near Shanksville, Pa., as some of the passengers attempted to retake the aircraft from the hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day as a result of the attacks, including 343 firefighters, 71 law enforcement officers and 55 military personnel who were first responders.
On Tuesday morning, led by a band of bagpipers performing “Scotland the Brave” and “The Minstrel Boy,” more than 100 Albuquerque and Bernalillo County firefighters made their way through the lobby of the Albuquerque Plaza tower to participate in the annual stair climb in remembrance of those first responders.
Wearing full firefighting bunker gear with about 50 pounds of equipment, the firefighters were cheered on by family members and onlookers lining the way to the building’s stairs, where the men and women climbed up and down the 22-story tower five times, the equivalent of 110 stories. That’s the same number of stories in the World Trade Center towers.
Carlos Hernandez, one of four firefighters from the Bernalillo County Fire Department participating in Tuesday’s event, said sacrifice is part of the firefighting profession.
“They sacrificed their lives for people they didn’t know,” Hernandez said. “To me, that’s the ultimate sacrifice.
“In today’s world with social media, it’s all about me, me, me. This is a reminder of what those men and women did that day. We don’t want another attack, but we have to be ready.”
Retired Albuquerque fire department Lt. Charles Cogburn is credited with starting the local climb. He was serving with the military in Afghanistan in 2003 when he saw televised 9/11 remembrance ceremonies taking place in the United States.
The following year, he organized the city’s first stairwell climb with members of the stations where he worked, Engine 5 and Engine 2.
After Tuesday’s climb, those gathered then assembled at Civic Plaza for a noontime ceremony to hear speakers pay tribute to the 9/11 victims. The names of the victims at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and on the four hijacked airliners appeared on a video screen.
“We all remember where we were when we first saw it or heard it and how we reacted,” Gov. Susana Martinez said. “Waking up on that, what should have been just another Tuesday morning, the day pointed to the reality of the evil that exists in the world and the horror and tragedy that came with it. But on that morning, we also witnessed the love, dedication and spirit of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to protect others.”
On that day, said City Council President Ken Sanchez, “America and its people did not flinch. Today … we in America reclaim the spirit and unity, the promise and hope that we believe in. Today, we are more resilient as American people.”
The number “343” is a sacred number in the fire service, Albuquerque Fire Rescue Chief Paul Dow said.
“We remember these 343 firefighters along with nearly 3,000 civilians in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.,” Dow said. “We’re not here to relive the tragedy that occurred 17 years ago, but to remember it and to honor those who fell that day.”
The keynote speaker was Chaplain Mindi Russell of Sacramento, Calif., who worked with first responders and victims at Ground Zero for more than two weeks. She said there was nothing at Ground Zero but dust and ash – nothing that resembled the office building that once stood there.
“We were ushered to the middle of Ground Zero and we were in the midst of the valley of the shadow of death with dust and ash whirling around us, choking us every step of the way,” Russell said. “I know it was during the day, but there was not a sound to be made. We walked and talked with the people who were first responders, already exhausted after nine hours of searching, just searching for one person to be alive in that mud and ash and dust, and yet they couldn’t find anything, let alone a resemblance of any kind of office.”
The ceremony’s conclusion included bagpipers playing “Amazing Grace” and a last alarm presentation of striking the “four-fives,” five bell strikes repeated four times as a way to signal that a firefighter has responded to his or her last alarm.