Calhoun County first responders commemorate 20 years with stair climb

The mood was somber.

As dawn broke, the Formosa Plastics ladder truck pulled into the Sandcrab Stadium parking lot. One by one, first responders started to arrive. Firefighters from across the county started donning bunker gear while other responders arrived in uniform.

The stillness of the morning could be felt as the U.S. Flag was raised, and the tone was set.

There wasn’t fanfare or pre-event publicity. It was planned that way. This wasn’t an event for pomp and circumstance.

The Calhoun County 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb held this past Saturday was about the solemnity of events that rocked this nation to its core 20-years ago. It was a very specific tribute.

It was about brotherhood.

The Twin Towers that collapsed as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were each 110 stories tall. To honor and remember the 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers, and 9 EMS personnel who perished at ground zero, local first responders climbed an equivalent number of stairs at Sandcrab Stadium.

“One of our volunteers expressed a desire to do something for the 20th anniversary on 9/11 and suggested a stair climb,” said Joshua Grissom of the Point Comfort Volunteer Fire Department. “We thought it was a great idea. We started spreading the word, and the response has been a lot more than we had anticipated. We do it in memorial of all of the people who lost their lives and gave everything they had 20 years ago.”

The event kicked off with a prayer by Dustin Jenkins, Calhoun County EMS Director. Following the prayer, the participants and others in attendance turned their eyes to the flag flying high above the stadium for the Pledge of Allegiance.

And then they turned and quietly headed for the stairs.

For roughly the next hour and 15-minutes, they climbed. And as they made the 110-story climb, they remembered those that started that climb 20 years ago, many that didn’t finish. As they climbed, the impact of grave realization reflected in their eyes.

As the sun beamed down, their faces became red, and sweat soaked their clothes, but still, they trudged on, some stopping for a brief moment before returning to the task at hand. They were on a mission in which stopping was not an option.

“I felt like it was not enough,” said Deputy Melissa Sanchez of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office after she finished her climb. “Not enough for the lives that we lost and the families.”

“And I barely made it,” she continued. “So I can’t imagine how they did it running and with the smoke and everything. I barely made it. I can’t imagine how they did.”

Even though the planning stage was short, approximately 30 local first responders participated, representing virtually every Calhoun department, including Port Lavaca Volunteer Fire Department, Point Comfort Volunteer Fire Department, Port Alto Olivia Volunteer Fire Department, Port Lavaca Fire Department, Port Lavaca Police Department, Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office, Victoria Fire Department, and Calhoun County EMS. From outside the county, one Victoria Fire Fighter participated.

At the time of the climb, several women walked around the Calhoun track doing “20 for 20.”

This year may have been the first for Calhoun County to participate in the stair climb, but organizers hope it won’t be the last with plans to grow participation next year.

As the firefighters picked up their gear and participants headed to their vehicles, Calhoun youth football players began trickling into the stadium for the games scheduled for the day.

And as he walked across the parking lot, Grissom shared some final thoughts.

“Realizing that those guys did it and their lives were on the line and the people they were going to save, their lives were on the line,” he said. “It was sobering, to say the least.”