WATSONVILLE — On Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of New York City firefighters and other emergency responders rushed headlong into the smoke and flames of the Twin Towers, even as untold numbers of people ran away.
For 343 firefighters, 71 police officers and eight paramedics, that drive to do their duty was their final act. They were killed, along with nearly 3,000 people in three attacks in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania.
On Monday, 13 firefighters from Watsonville Fire Department and Central Fire gathered in Watsonville to pay tribute in their own way.
That meant climbing up and down the staircase in the parking garage of Watsonville Civic Plaza 18 times, which was equivalent to the number of steps the New York City firefighters climbed before Tower 1 collapsed, said Watsonville Firefighter Aaron Whiting.
“I was sitting home with my kids and I thought, ‘this is a good way to honor those who perished,’” he said.
The climb was not as easy as it sounds. The men wore their “turn-outs,” and breathing gear, an 80-pound burden that left them sweating and exhausted.
“It traps heat and you start cooking pretty quickly,” Whiting said.
Still, it was just another day on the job for a profession that regularly presents significant life hazards, Whiting said.
“Firefighter line-of-duty deaths are common, but (the 9/11 attack) to date was the largest,” he said. “This was a little thing we can do together as a team to remember those who have fallen.”
Students at Holy Cross School in Santa Cruz, meanwhile, rolled up their sleeves and baked loads of cookies to honor local emergency workers, a 15-year tradition at the school.
Firefighters, California State Park Rangers, local police and others were handed trays of fresh-baked cookies.
“This is our 15th year,” said principal Patty Patano. “Our guests today are the ones that run into the trouble, while the rest of us turn the other way. We are here to honor them.”