Remembering sacrifice; Area firefighters, public pay tribute to 9-11 victims, local personnel

Wabash City Fire Lt. Kevin Brainard wipes his face after climbing 110 flights at the fifth annual Wabash County Sept. 11 tribute climb. Local firefighters and residents honored the Sept. 11, 2001, victims and local fallen heroes at the event. Photo by Emma Rausch

By Emma Rausch

Wabash County firefighters geared up and headed to the Wabash County YMCA on Monday morning, Sept. 11, not for an emergency, but for tribute.

Monday marked the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which al-Qaeda, an Islamic extremist terrorist group, coordinated four attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pa.

The attacks kill nearly 3,000 people and injured 6,000 more. In attempts to rescue survivors inside the World Trade Center, 343 New York City firefighters and 60 police officers lost their lives.

The day is known as the deadliest incident for emergency personnel in United States history.

In 2012, Wabash firefighters Jeff Krom and Dennis Vigar began an annual Sept. 11 tribute climb to honor those that lost their lives by climbing 110 flights of stairs.

“It started out with just Dennis and I together and wanted to do something to honor the firemen that died that day,” Krom said. “There were 343 firemen and 60 police officers that died that day and we wanted to do something locally to honor those guys and their memory. We just showed up (at the YMCA) in fire gear, went up stairs and started climbing.”

“We actually made the Y nervous when we walked in with our fire gear on,” Vigar added. “They were like, ‘Do we have a fire?’”

“I don’t remember who it was,” Krom continued, “but their eyes got really big and they asked, ‘Do we have a problem?’ And we’re like, ‘Nope. We’re just going upstairs.’”

Word of Krom and Vigar’s personal tribute spread throughout the community and others decided to join in the next year to remember their fallen comrades in a personal way.

Since then, the tribute climb has branched out to include all of Wabash County, inviting both first responders and residents to remember Sept. 11 as a community.

Monday’s climb marked the fifth consecutive year for the event.

“I think the fire service, in general for us, it’s a big brotherhood,” Krom said. “Unfortunately, in the U.S., we lose about 100 firemen a year on average in the line of duty. No matter where it’s at, when you hear a firemen died, it hits us here, too.”

“We’ve had three in our county,” Vigar added. “We like doing (the tribute climb) for them too. We tend forget that it’s local, not just national.”

“Every fire we go on there’s danger,” Krom continued. “Something could go wrong and someone could get injured or have to pay the ultimate price. So I think it’s kind of a reminder for us too that this is a serious job we have and it does have consequences.”

Each year, participants are offered the opportunity to don firefighter gear as they climb. The jacket, pants, helmet and boots alone weigh approximately 25 pounds with the full set—air tank and additional tools used at an actual fire—measuring closer to 70 pounds, according to Vigar.

Despite the weight, local firemen gear up for the tribute.

“Our fire gear is made, obviously, to keep heat out and protect us from fires, but it also keeps all of your body heat in,” Krom said. “So think of it as putting on coveralls or a snowsuit and completely covered up where you can’t breath and then throw another 40 pounds on your back and then start climbing for a half hour.”

While the tribute works up a sweat for locals, it doesn’t compare to what the first responders faced at the World Trade Center in 2001.

“Here’s something big to think about,” Vigar said. “They (the 343) were going up stairwells in groups and there were thousands of people going down stairwells. They weren’t just going up. They were dodging people, carrying a hose…”

“And unfortunately none of them made it 110 floors,” Krom added. “But I can’t imagine what was going through their mind that day, walking up into a building like that. You’re looking at every floor was an acre (high) and could be on fire. I can’t imagine what was going through their minds. They were going to work.”

“They looked up, saw the smoke and still went in,” Vigar continued. “That’s amazing and that’s why we do this to honor them.”

In addition to remembering those fallen, Krom and Vigar added an opportunity at the tribute to support fire victims that are still here. Three years ago, the tribute climb began collecting donations for the Hoosier Burn Camp and has raised more than $5,500 for the cause.

It costs approximately $1,100 to send one child to the camp, according to Krom.

“It’s always great to help the kids and you can help them on a local level,” Vigar said. “That’s what we were looking to do, to help people in need around our community and that’s what we felt was a great organization (to do that). It tied us in to the fire and…”

“And I did find out after the first event that there is a local girl that has been multiple times to the Hoosier Burn Camp and actually lives in Wabash,” Krom added.

Krom and Vigar said they appreciate the community’s support of the tribute climb.

“There’s going to be numerous departments represented here today and that’s what’s makes it nice,” Vigar said. “We all work together in this county and it shows.”

Posted on 2017 Sep 12