Finishing the Climb: Local First Responders Memorialize 9/11’s Fallen

DALLAS -- A survey of the uniformed first responders outside Dallas' Renaissance Tower Saturday morning drew similar responses.

"Every step I go up, I think about 'em," one said, looking ahead to the day's challenge.

"I got to kiss my wife goodbye and my kids goodbye," said another. "A lot of these firefighters on September 11 didn't get to go home to their wife and kids."

"They didn't have a chance to stop," another explained. "They just went and did their job."

"You're gonna have to take it away from me in order for me not to finish," Midlothian Firefighter James Fussner finished, summing up the determination of this group.

One by one, they streamed up to Renaissance Tower's 54th and top floor Saturday -- the second time they'd reached that summit -- covering 110 flights in all for the memory of 9/11's bravest souls, the first responders who lost their lives that day trying to save others.

The event was the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, and these local firefighters, police officers, and medical technicians took it seriously.

"I know the family that I climbed for last year and this year," Fussner said. "I got off the phone with them right before I climbed, and after I finished I got on the phone and talked to them."

This year he was representing FDNY Squad 1 Lt. Michael Esposito, and he was wearing a shirt honoring him that was sent from Esposito's family.

Esposito was among 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers, and nine medical technicians that died because of 9/11.

Another was FDNY Engine 207 firefighter Shawn Powell. For the fourth time in five years Highland Park Fire Captain Tom Wendling was the first to walk the 110 stories, and this year his goal was simple. Get Powell to the top before anyone else.

"That's for the guy I'm climbing for because I want him to be first," Wendling said after he finished. "I want that in a bad way."

The bell rang out as each name finished his climb and was read by a member of the Fire Department of New York. Some brothers used each other to get to the top.

"Step-in-step we pushed each other," Celina firefighter Chris Kincaid said. "When I was tired, he pushed me. When he was tired, I pushed him."

The Kincaids from Celina FD actually are brothers, two of a set of triplets in fact, and having a brother in the brotherhood of first responders makes this day even more special.

"I think that's kind of one of the things that drew us into the fire service is growing up and seeing that every year on the anniversary," Carl Kincaid said. "It kind of touched both of our hearts and led us in that direction."

Chris Kincaid was climbing for FDNY Ladder 11 firefighter Richard Kelly, Jr. His brother, Carl, was making the trek for Ladder 11's John Hefferman.

And so they climbed 15 years after the attack, like hundreds of others, all to keep 422 names alive.