Twin Towers will not be forgotten
The American flag flew at half-mast outside the Alexandria Fire Hall on September 11, 2013 — 12 years after the nation was assaulted on home ground by terrorists in New York.
Inside, Alexandria Fire Department (AFD) firefighters prepared to honor their 343 fallen comrades with a tribute climb of the Viking Towers apartment building in Alexandria. Ten men ascended 14 flights of stairs to the building's roof access on Wednesday afternoon in memory of the World Trade Center tragedy.
"We have always paid homage to our fallen brothers," said AFD firefighter Mark Bergerson. "This year we wanted to memorialize them in a different way by finishing the journey that they could not on that fateful day 12 years ago."
Every year since 2001, the AFD firefighters pause for a moment of silence during their September meeting to remember those who lost their lives on 9/11.
Bergerson is credited as spearheading the honor climb. First Assistant Chief Bill Thoennes said a crew of firefighters regularly meet for training at the fire station to workout and train.
"Mark mentioned that it would be a great tribute to climb the highrise," Thoennes said.
Bergerson estimated the climb would take between 20 and 30 minutes, the firemen completed the duty in 15 minutes. Thoennes said the AFD has done the climb previously as part of their workout but this time they wore an additional 40 pounds of gear, including air-pack breathing apparatus.
Some of the AFD crew carried axes, pry bars, spare oxygen bottles and hose lines to symbolize the equipment New York firefighters transported up the staircases in the towers.
"We will be climbing two-times, plus seven more steps, one step for each of the 343 firefighters that lost their lives this dreadful day," Thoennes explained.
Once the final man reached the 343rd step, retired Fire Chief Shane Schmidt said a prayer. Schmidt was joined by Thoennes, Bergerson, Lt. Aaron Zollner, Shaynen Schmidt, Shawn Olson, Josh Jacobson, Quentin Warrey, Kris Pierce and Pat Solyntjes.
"It was our way of paying tribute to those 343 brothers of the fire service who paid the ultimate sacrifice," Thoennes said. "It was awesome."