New York City firefighter Robert King Jr. was one of many first responders who rushed into the North Tower on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The 36-year-old from Bellerose Terrace was a carpenter. He’d built a trestle table that seated 25 at his firehouse. He’d also built bunk beds for his two boys and a jewelry box for his mother. The firefighter on Engine 33 was one of the 343 FDNY members who lost their lives while climbing flights of stairs to save victims stranded at the top of the World Trade Center towers.
Representing the Decatur Fire Department, Cameron Burk, a paramedic with Wise County EMS, took part in the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Sunday morning. Burk carried a tag with King’s name on it.
Dressed in full gear, Burk climbed 110 flights of stairs. No building in Dallas has that many flights, so he climbed the 55 flights of the Renaissance Tower twice.
“It was the most demanding thing I’ve ever done,” Burk said. “You’re carrying about 100 pounds of weight. Just doing 15 flights is challenging, let alone 110.”
Burk was joined by Decatur firefighter Brandon McGar. McGar carried a tag with the name Carlos Lillo inscribed on it. Lillo was a New York City Paramedic from Astoria. He entered the North Tower with King that fateful morning,
“Physically, it was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my entire life,” McGar said. “But it had a purpose. I was doing it for Carlos. So I kept pushing myself.”
McGar and Burk joined 341 other participants from 83 departments in four states to take part in the first Dallas 9/11 Stair Climb.
It was definitely a different kind of memorial. The 343 firefighters re-enacted what their New York City brethren did a decade earlier. They entered the building together at the same time the FDNY members did in 2001. They paused for a moment of silence at the exact same time the first tower fell. They did it again when the second tower collapsed.
And along the way, each one carried a name representing one of the FDNY members who died that morning. They attached the names to a large board once they’d completed the climb up 110 flights of stairs, the same number of stair flights that were in the World Trade Center towers.
“Those firefighters that day never made it to the top,” Burk said. “When we brought their names, it symbolized that they did make it.”
He said seeing the mass of firefighters dressed out in full gear last Sunday really brought home how many lives were lost that morning.
“Words can’t describe it,” Burk said. “When you see all the hands and helmets going up the stairs, it’s pretty amazing.”
“It was amazing,” McGar echoed. “It was unbelievable, and it was emotional.”
The event also raised $150,000 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, an organization that helps the families of firefighters who died in the line of duty.