Two local firefighters participate in climb honoring fallen 9/11 firefighters

| September 11, 2019

Tony Griffith (left) and Brandon Bradford (right) participated in the 9/11 memorial climb at Chase Tower on Sunday, Sept. 8.

COLUMBUS – Each year, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation hosts memorial stair climbing events throughout the United States to memorialize the 343 fallen firefighters during the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. The number of steps climbed is equivalent to the 110 stories of the World Trade Center.

Last April, Brandon Bradford attended the FDIC International’s hands-on training conference for firefighters in Indianapolis. While there, he saw a presentation on the 9/11 memorial stair climb.

“I thought, I have to do that,” said Bradford. “Being a fireman, I don’t want to say that I feel different than anybody else about what happened, but being a firefighter, those were your brothers and sisters.”

Bradford knew that he wanted to be a part of the memorial climb at the Chase Tower in Columbus on Sunday, Sept. 8 after his return from the conference, but wanted someone else local that would be willing to climb with him. He asked his brother-in-law Tony Griffith if he would like to participate as well.

“The whole idea of honoring the fallen firefighters, I thought that was awesome,” said Griffith. “Every year, especially for firefighters, Sept. 11 is a somber day no matter how you look at it.”

The two started training for the 2,600-stair climb by walking up and down the bleachers at the football field. About two months ago, the brothers started slow and steady and slowly built up to the number of stairs they knew they were going to climb at the Chase Tower.

Bradford and Griffith were two of more than 500 people who came to memorialize the fallen firefighters of Sept. 11. Once there, each runner was led to a table filled with 343 identification tags with the picture and name of a firefighter who had lost their lives in the tragedy.

“When you’re at that table picking out a tag, I feel like the tag I picked up jumped out at me,” said Bradford. “I talked to other people there and they said they felt the same way.”

Bradford’s ID tag had the name of Steve Olston. He was 38 years old, a 12-year member of the fire department, and had two daughters.

“That’s who I was taking to the top with me that day,” said Bradford.

Getting the identification tag had an emotional effect on each runner.

“After that, it didn’t matter if you were climbing Mt. Everest,” said Griffith. “You were making it to the top for that guy you were wearing on your chest.”

Griffith’s ID tag had the name of Angel L. Juarbe Jr. He was a seven-year member of the fire department and started a program at the fire house where children could come and hang out at the fire house as long as their homework was finished.

“You kind of feel like you know them,” said Griffith. “When my eyes hit Angel’s name, it was like that nametag was standing up straight. It jumped out at me.”

Bagpipes led the runners into the tower as they prepared to start. There were three groups participating: competitive, athletic, and casual. Griffith and Bradford participated in the competitive group.

Griffith said that there were people along the way as they were walking to direct them to the next set of stairs.

“The first trip for me was a learning experience, trying to figure out which way to go,” said Griffith. “The second, third, fourth, and fifth time, you started to really think about what these guys went through. These guys had all their gear on them, carrying about 50-feet of hose, and let alone, this was the biggest catastrophe they’d ever seen. The biggest thing is they climbed 25, 50, 100 floors and they get there and now they’ve got to fight the fire.”

Griffith said that his fiancée accompanied him on the trip and timed each lap, which lasted about 10 to 13 minutes. The Chase Tower has 24 floors and each runner climbed it five times.

“When you’re doing the stair climb, you experience every stage of emotion,” said Bradford. “When you first get started, you’re really excited to get started and you’re going strong, but when you start to wear down, you start thinking, what were these guys thinking? It puts it all into perspective.”

In addition to honoring the 343 fallen firefighters in the 9/11 tragedy, Bradford and Griffith wanted to honor former Coshocton Firefighter Wilmer Hale as well.

“When we decided to do this, I felt like we were going to honor 343 brothers,” said Griffith. “The thought of us going to honor 343 firefighters was awesome, but we didn’t want to do that without honoring a local brother as well.”

The two approached Coshocton Fire Chief Mike Layton and asked if they could honor Hale during the climb. Layton gave them a photo of Hale and a Coshocton Fire patch.

“We’d like to thank those guys for letting us do that,” said Bradford. “That was an honor.”

After the walk was completed, each runner rang a bell and said the name of their fallen firefighter.

Both Bradford and Griffith remember where they were when they heard about the 9/11 attacks. Griffith was a weaver at Longaberger and was weaving when he heard about the first plane hitting the tower. He continued his work but kept an eye on the television.

“I kept weaving, but I was paying more attention to the TV and I actually saw that second plane fly right into that tower,” said Griffith. “We knew right then that this was not an accident.”

Bradford was in Adamsville working for a contractor and said that he was working at a job site.

“A gentleman opened his door and said, you guys need to come in here and see this,” said Bradford.

Bradford has been with the West Lafayette Fire Department for 26 years and Griffith has been a firefighter since 2005. Griffith wants to encourage other people to participate in the memorial climb.

“It’s not just for firefighters,” said Griffith. “The general public can do it too. I would love to get a group of people and go over and do it. It’s a fantastic experience and I think anybody and everybody should go do it. I’m really glad and really appreciative of Brandon for coming up with the idea.”

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About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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