Dedicated climb: Firefighters pay honor to first responders lost on 9/11

By Richard Greene | Published Saturday, September 8, 2018

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Ready for Challenge

READY FOR CHALLENGE – Firefighters Ashlee Schmitz, Shane White and Dawnelle Burns will take part in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in Dallas Saturday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

On Sept. 11, 2001, Shane White was on shift with MedStar in Fort Worth when he heard about the airliners striking the World Trade Center in New York.

Across the Metroplex, Ashlee Schmitz was getting her day started in the 13th floor of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company in Dallas as her phone began ringing with family members asking about her then husband that was at one of the World Trade Center’s buildings the day before.

GOING TO THE TOP – Local firefighters Ashlee Schmitz, Shane White and Dawnelle Burns will join 340 other first responders in Dallas Saturday for the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In Fort Benning, Ga., Dawnelle Burns was taking her kids to school when she heard the news. She soon got a call from her husband who was on active duty, saying he didn’t know when he’d be home.

“It’s a day you never forget,” Burns said.

The trio that was then scattered across the country will join 340 other firefighters, police officers and medics Saturday in remembering the first responders lost 17 years before in the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Renaissance Tower in Dallas. The trio will climb the 55 floors of the high rise twice, 110 floors total, in full bunker gear.

Schmitz and White are volunteers with the Decatur Fire Department. The two graduated from the department’s academy in May. Burns is a volunteer for Runaway Bay and Lake Bridgeport.

This will be Burns’ fourth time to be chosen for the field of 343 climbers – the number of first responders lost on Sept. 11.

“They gave up their lives. It’s the least I can do for my brothers and sisters,” said Burns, who has been a firefighter since 2009.

Her first year to attempt the climb, Burns said she had to shed some of her gear. The past two attempts she completed in full gear.

“It’s very hard. Your mind plays tricks on you,” she said.

She said the fellow firefighters and cheers from strangers keep her going.

Schmitz followed Burns’ lead in signing up and was able to get one of the final spots in the field. She participated in a practice climb in July to prepare.

“Even the practice climb was a very humbling event,” she said. “It was hard, carrying the extra weight. It was hot then. [Saturday] when there’s 343 climbers, it’s going to be really hot.”

White was able to join the field of climbers after a spot opened up. He will not only wear his full bunker gear but also the SCBA tank, adding more than 22 pounds total. He said he’s been working out at Fit-N-Wise to prepare.

“It’s an honor. It’s hard to believe it’s been 17 years,” White said.

“I was on shift when the planes hit the tower. I called my shift supervisor and said, ‘if we send trucks, I want to go.’ I had a knot in my stomach for weeks.”

East Wise firefighter Pete Kozlowski will also attempt the climb for a second time.

While undertaking the challenge, the firefighters will be thinking of those that paid the ultimate sacrifice in New York.

“It’ll be an honor to finish,” Schmitz said. “It’ll be an accomplishment, but what’s most important is honoring those that gave their lives that day trying to protect us.”

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