It was a calm, clear morning, much the same as it was 20 years ago as members of the Woodstock Fire Department made their way up Overlook Mountain as part of the 9/11 Stair Climb to pay tribute to those who died on that fateful day and to raise money for the National Fallen Firefighters Association. A group of 14 and some of their children participated in the climb, which is about the same distance up and back as the 110 flights climbed by members of the FDNY on 9/11 as they attempted to rescue people from the North and South towers of the World Trade Center.
Many participating in Saturday’s hike wore full turnout gear with air tanks, which depending on equipment such as folded hose, weighs about 45-60 pounds. For all, it was a way to pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice 20 years ago. For some, the 9/11 anniversary is still an emotional time as they lived and worked in the city at the time.
Among the climbers, one voice was reading off names… “Michael E. Roberts… Anthony Rodriguez… Matthew Rogan…” That voice belonged to EMT Lorraine Brink, captain of Company 5, otherwise known as the Rescue Squad. Those were just a few of the names of first-responders who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. “They had me do it because I was a teacher,” quipped Brink, who read with an ample authoritative voice.
Brink taught in Jamaica, Queens, and the morning of the attacks, she had to calm the nerves of many anxious and scared high school freshmen while trying to make sense of it herself. Some were afraid maybe the school was next, so she told them the attackers went after centers of power and wealth, so they should be okay.
The group stopped for a rest just after 8:30 and waited for others to catch up. They were also waiting to mark the time American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north face of the North Tower. At exactly 8:46, firefighters’ pagers crackled to life with an announcement from Ulster County 911 to commemorate the first attack of that day.
The hikers also stopped at other times to mark the tragedies that occurred on that fateful day. At 9:03, United Flight 175 hit the South Tower. At 9:37, American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed. At 10:03, United Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pa., after passengers fought back against hijackers. It is believed Flight 93 was bound for either the White House or U.S. Capitol. At 10:28, the North Tower collapsed, also destroying the Marriott Hotel.
It was especially emotional for EMT Jane Pike, who lived on West End Avenue and 86th Street on 9/11. Her son Finnegan was 2 years old while Ronan was 3 and a half months old. Her husband Greg was at work at 68th Street and Columbus Avenue, where he was training Doug Gardner, the head of ESpeed, the data division of the trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald. Gardner had headed into his office in the North Tower early that morning. He never made it out.
The events that morning had changed their lives forever.
“We had just closed on our Woodstock house September 7, 2001. It was to be our summer house for a few years,” Pike wrote in a piece in 2013 about her experiences. “Greg grew up in Woodstock, and we knew we wanted to move there eventually. But, we had to figure out the work situation first. Now, we decided, it would be our haven,” she wrote.
She described how surreal the ride to Woodstock was the next day, beginning with packing the car, which was covered in ash and pulverized concrete from the towers. There were very few cars on the road and only emergency vehicles coming into the city. “I felt like we were abandoning our friends and our community, and a part of me wanted to stay with people who had this shared experience,” Pike wrote. “But, I also felt that leaving would be the best thing to do for our boys.”
Greg lived and worked in the city for the next eight years while Jane stayed in Woodstock with the boys. “Every single time I go into the city, I think about the towers. I think about how horrifically so many died, and how bravely so many more did,” she wrote.
Many of those hiking Overlook couldn’t help but note there is now a whole generation of youth graduating from high school and college who either weren’t alive on 9/11/01 or were too young to be cognizant of what had happened.
One of them is Firefighter Jonathan Bloom, 17, who just finished interior firefighter training for a skill that is needed among younger members as the department ranks get older.
“I’m doing alright,” Bloom said, when asked how he was dealing with the weight of his gear and the steep hike. Some of the older crew said they wished, at least for that moment, they were 17 again.
Bloom, a Kingston High School senior, said he has been involved in the fire department for quite awhile, though officially since age 16, when one can legally become a member. He’s already had a busy year. Having completed the difficult interior training, Bloom will also begin taking classes to become an EMT and is also completing the necessary tasks to become an Eagle Scout.
Triple the contributions
Last year was the first year the Woodstock Fire Department participated in the climb and they’ve already more than tripled the $6000 they raised in 2020. For the 2021 climb, they’ve raised $18,968 as of September 12.
This year’s participants were Chief Kevin Peters, Capt. Nash Burke, Capt. Ryan Peters, Lt. Karen Pignataro, Capt. Lorraine Brink, Firefighter Baris Demirel, Firefighter Evan Holland, Firefighter Taylor Peters, EMT Pete Caigan, Firefighter Symon Hallam, Firefighter Paul Rolnick, Lt. Dawn Neal Ellsworth, EMT Jane Pike and Firefighter Jonathan Bloom.
While the 9/11 Stair Climb is a yearly event, donations are accepted at any time and the proceeds go to help families of firefighters killed in the line of duty. Donations on behalf of the Woodstock Fire Department can be made at https://nfff.akaraisin.com/ui/national/t/woodstockfire.
WFD needs recruits
The Woodstock Fire Department needs more members, especially if you’re young and able-bodied like Jonathan Bloom. Consider joining. It is a volunteer department. Your pay is the satisfaction of helping your community.
Membership applications are accepted online through the Woodstock Fire Department Facebook page, at woodstockfiredept.org or by calling headquarters at 845-679-9922.