HARKER HEIGHTS — There was only the clanking of metal hose tips, oxygen tanks and buckles for about 250 firefighters to listen to as they climbed 110 flights of stairs in Austin on Sunday.
Firefighters from several departments gathered in memory of the 343 firefighters who died 13 years ago in the attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Among the firefighters participating in the 2014 Central Texas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was Harker Heights Fire Department’s own Jonathan Newhouse.
“I’ve always wanted to do this, and I finally had the opportunity to this year,” said the 26-year-old Copperas Cove resident who has been with the department for two years. “The climb was a really personal experience for me to pay my respects for those who lost their lives.”
The firefighters — wearing full gear — mostly remained silent as they climbed to honor those who never made it out of the towers on 9/11, but words of encouragement also could be heard in-between breaths echoing in the stairwell to motivate the climbers to complete the task at hand.
During the arduous climb, each participant wore a badge bearing a photo, name and company number of one of the firefighters who perished in the terrorist attack. Newhouse proudly carried Battalion Chief Dennis A. Cross’ FDNY accountability tag.
“It was humbling to climb the stairs and go through what those guys went through that day,” he said.
Newhouse hustled up and down the stairs fives times — the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs inside a World Trade Center tower — carrying nearly 60 pounds of gear in Sunday’s heat.
And after about an hour of going up and down the stairs, Newhouse wanted to quit.
“This was the most physically demanding thing I have ever done. I had about 12 flights left when a retired firefighter poured cold water down my back and gave me the push I needed to finish,” he said. “What helped me push through was knowing those firefighters didn’t have a choice that day but to keep going.”
Shortly after 8 a.m., the teams began to climb. Climbing was halted and a moment of silence was observed four times — at 8:46, 9:02, 9:59, and 10:28 a.m. — to symbolize the planes hitting each tower and the times each tower fell.
After each firefighter completed the climb, he or she read aloud the name of the firefighter their badge represented and rang a bell three times for each life lost.
“Each ringing of the bell is a very powerful sound,” Newhouse said.
The Texas Firewalkers, a nonprofit organization, holds fundraisers to assist families who have lost their homes to fires. This event was designed to “give you a gut check,” and be both “emotionally and physically demanding,” according to the Firewalkers website.
“I’m so proud of Jonathan for taking on this challenge,” said Harker Heights Fire Department Capt. Cindy Hicks. “One-hundred-ten flights of stairs in full turn-out gear and airpack! This was an incredible tribute to those that made the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11.”