Drew MacKinnon was at high school on Sept. 11, 2001, when a pair of hijacked commercial airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City.
Like most people who were alive on that fateful day, he can recall where he was and what he was doing when he heard the news of the co-ordinated terrorist attacks.
“I remember my teacher at the time brought in a TV – one of those old tube TVs – rolled it into the classroom and we watched it,” he said.
Saturday – on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – MacKinnon and other members of the Township of Chatsworth Fire Department took part in a memorial stair climb in honour of the 343 New York City Fire Department firefighters who were killed while responding to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
The local firefighters each climbed to the top of the five-storey Chatsworth Village Apartments 20 times – the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs, which was the number of storeys in both the south and north towers of the World Trade Centre.
The event was also a fundraiser for the Canadian Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which honours fallen firefighters and provides support to their family members.
“Every year on the anniversary of 9/11 since 2005, firefighters from all over Canada and the United States have been doing the memorial stair climb to show respect for the 343 firefighters that gave their lives 20 years ago today,” said MacKinnon, a captain with the Chatsworth department.
This was the first time the Chatsworth department has conquered the climb, but MacKinnon has done it three times at Bruce Power, where he also works as a firefighter.
It was a hot, tough slog up and down those apartment stairs, he said, but the firefighters were well aware that it paled in comparison to the climb the New York City firefighters faced 20 years ago.
“I find every time you do it, you think a lot about the guys who did it that day,” he said. “As hard as this gets, you think about how they were carrying up hose, they were carrying extra cylinders. They were dealing with people running down those stairs, trying to save lives and they had to go fight a fire once they got there.”
Two Chatsworth fire captains, an acting captain and five firefighters took part in the memorial stair climb, along with the spouse of one of the firefighters and daughter of another.
MacKinnon and firefighter Brent Radmore, president of the Chatsworth Firefighters Association, co-organized the climb.
The event began at 8:30 a.m.
By that time on Sept. 11, 2001, all four airliners that would crash that day had taken off with hijackers on board.
The local firefighters had staggered start times, with the final firefighter completing the climb just before 9:45 a.m.
They were climbing at the same moment 20 years ago that the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre – at 8:46 a.m. – and a second airliner collided with the South Tower – at 9:03 a.m. – and the third of four hijacked planes crashed into the Pentagon – at 9:37 a.m.
A total of 2,977 people died that day.
Kyla Tunstall, who is in her final year of a paramedic program at Georgian College in Barrie, took part in the Chatsworth climb.
The daughter of Chatsworth firefighter Steve Mortley, Tunstall was just a baby on 9/11.
She’s a graduate of Conestoga College’s pre-service firefighter program and plans to become a firefighter and paramedic.
The climb was a challenge, she said, especially the final two trips up to the top. But she made it into a bit of a competition, not wanting to let the seasoned firefighters finish with a faster time.
“I was also wearing a lot less gear than they were, so I don’t really have an excuse,” she said with a laugh.