A Greenwood County man is passionate about paying his respect to the firefighters who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
He was able to show it over the weekend at the Epic Center in Wichita during a stair climb benefit.
Jerrid Baumgartel, the Severy Fire Chief, packed on his full firefighter gear, including an airpack on his back, and joined area firefighters to climb 110 floors — the height of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers in New York City.
Baumgartel is the first climber from Greenwood County to participate in the memorial, and hopes to raise awareness so more local firefighters will join him. Baumgartel said it took right at an hour and a half to make the 110 floors, climbing 20 floors five times and then one more climb of 10 floors.
Each participant must be an active or retired firefighter, career or volunteer. Each member climbed in honor of one of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died in the terror attacks. A steel beam from the World Trade Center was brought to the site for this event, where each firefighter was able to touch it as they completed the climb.
The firefighter Baumgartel climbed to honor was named Jonathan Lelpi, who was a member of the FDNY Squad No. 288. The 29-year-old firefighter had phoned his parents to let them know a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.
“Jon, please be careful,” his father had told him.
His body was recovered in the south tower stairwell three months later, on Dec. 11, 2001.
Baumgartel trained for several months before the event, walking and climbing in his full fire gear to prepare for the climb. He and his wife, Jessica, took their children with them to the memorial event, as it was important to impress on them what had happened that day.
“It’s an emotional experience,” he said. “The opening ceremony takes you back to the day it happened. The bond of firemen, brotherhood and everyone talking to keep you wanting to go. It was an amazing experience and I’m ready to do it again next year.”
To participate, each firefighter pays a registration fee with the proceeds going to the FDNY Fire Family Transport Foundation, which helps serve FDNY firefighters and their families during times of injury, illness or line-of-duty death. FDNY Fire Family Transport is currently assisting more than 900 FDNY firefighters who are battling 9/11–related illnesses.
Firefighters who lost their lives that day aren’t the only ones who were affected.
More than 200 firefighters have died since the attacks from illnesses picked up by working at the World Trade Center site. Data from a new study has been used to connect exposure on the site to cardiovascular disease for firefighters. Earlier this summer, President Donald Trump signed a bill to make sure funding for a victims’ compensation fund will be long-sustaining for injuries and illnesses related to the Sept. 11 attacks. The Associated Press reports more than 40,000 people have applied to the fund for assistance.
More information on the climb may be found at WichitaStairClimb.com.