The sound of shoes climbing up and down the stairs of the Magnolia building on the Wayne Community College campus could be heard loud and proud Sunday morning.
One of those people climbing up and down the stairs was Dylan Barto, a staff sergeant and crew chief at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, who said it was hard to put into words his motivation for taking part in WCC’s annual 9/11 Tribute Stair Climb.
“I have not participated in this event before, but I’m in the paramedic class here at WCC, and it felt right to participate,” Batro said. “Back home when I was little with my dad — he’s a firefighter, a couple of other people in my family are firefighters as well — we would participate in the annual 9/11 run, so it’s kind of become a tradition that I do this wherever I am.”
Barto wore full turnout gear, complete with a face mask, for most of the event. He was climbing in remembrance of New York City Fire Department Fire Marshall Ronald Bucca, who died the day of the attacks in 2001 while rescuing people trapped inside the World Trade Center.
After responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people, including 343 firefighters and 70 law enforcement officers, Bucca and NYFD Battalion Chief Orio Palmer ascended to the 78th floor of the South Tower, the floor where a plane struck the building.
“I think it’s a great honor to climb in remembrance of somebody that was a veteran and a firefighter,” Barto said. “It’s an honor to know that he performed way above what was thought to be humanly possible when the time came.
“I had to wear the gear because if you’re going to do it, then you have to go all out.”
Alongside Barto, first responders, emergency medical services, basic law enforcement students and others also participated in the stair climb.
With rain coming down throughout the morning, people climbed the flight of stairs at the Magnolia building about 50 times, which symbolically represents the 1,404 steps the group of firefighters ascended the day the World Trade Center was attacked to rescue people from the floors where a plane had struck the South Tower.
Former Wayne County sheriff’s deputy Angie Blizzard helps organize the stair climb every year. She said the event demonstrates the camaraderie between branches of first responders, as BLET candidates and active duty officers shouldered firefighters’ oxygen tanks and turnout coats as the climb became more and more grueling.
Currently the WCC dean of public safety, Blizzard still works part time with the sheriff’s office and has worked as a volunteer EMT and firefighter.
“I’ve been involved in the stair climb since the very first one,” Blizzard said. “We do this to remember the sacrifice that everyone made and to remember that we are the ones that people call when something bad happens. We are the helpers.
“Sometimes people think service is dying, but when you see stuff like this, it lets you know that first responders are remembered and appreciated.”
Before the stair climb started, people gathered in the Pine building in classroom 121 for a time of reflection. A table at the front of the classroom was filled with name badges of first responders who lost their lives in the attack.
Each participant picked up a badge of a 9/11 fallen first responder to wear during the stair climb. They also gathered to pray for the families of the fallen.
While some climbed in memory of New York City’s fallen heroes, others did so in memory of a loss that hit closer to home.
Jamal Williams, a patrol officer with the Goldsboro Police Department, was living in New York City when the Sept. 11 attack occurred.
He ran with BLET cadets during their laps during the stair climb, alternating between a brisk walk, light jog and sprint until all the steps were climbed.
“When I was growing up, I watched 9/11 happen as a kid. I watched it from my window, and we had to leave school and everything else,” Williams said. “I remember that day quite clearly. One of my friend’s family members died in the attacks, so it’s a very important day to be here doing this.”
WCC Paramedic Instructor David Cuddeback gave a speech prior to the climb. Cuddeback also wore his turnout gear for the majority of the stair climb.
Cuddeback urged each participant to remember the cause for the climb and to always prepare themselves — mentally and physically — before taking on their job each day.
“For Dave and me, it’s important for people to remember, and I know that sounds cliché,” Blizzard said. “Those first responders got up as if it was going to be a normal day, and we don’t like to say normal, and then going to work their shifts, and when the reports came in, none of them hesitated.
“I think it’s just important to encourage folks to be a part of something that’s bigger than themselves.”