Three Hays firefighters are preparing to strap on their heavy gear and climb 110 flights of stairs in honor of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Fire Lt. Aaron Dome and firefighters Justin Choitz and Tim Detrixhe are participating in the Wichita 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Epic Center on Saturday.
The climb is a sanctioned event of the Association of Memorial Stair Climbs and is designed to honor the 343 heroes tragically taken that day.
For months, Dome, Choitz and Detrixhe have been physically preparing to take on the feat, while mentally stepping back in time to 14 years ago.
“We had the radio on, and we were just getting ready to go to work when we heard the report that a plane hit,” Dome said.
Dome, who is an Army veteran, said the attack deeply angered him, and he knew something huge needed to happen.
“I knew we needed to figure out who did it and that we needed to give them exactly what President Bush finally did,” he said.
Choitz reflected on the memory of his wife calling him to tell him a plane hit the World Trade Center, and that the media speculated it was an accident.
“I finished my merchandizing, went home, sat down in front of the TV and watched as the second plane hit,” he said. “I finished the work I needed to do that day, but first I stopped by my kids’ daycare and gave them a hug.”
Detrixhe was a Hays High sophomore sitting in English class when he first heard the news.
“Someone from the office came in and told the teacher quietly; she turned on the TV, and there it was,” he said. “I remember it pretty vividly.”
It was just silence for the rest of the day in those classrooms, Detrixhe remembered.
“The bell rang to change class, but no one left their classrooms; they were just glued to the TV,” he said. “When the second plane hit, that was when this cold rush just came over, this sick feeling of knowing it was something big.”
Now, as firefighters, the men have a completely different perception of the grueling moments that unfolded that day.
“When you watch all the news footage and documentaries, it’s the sounds you hear in the background that now, as a firefighter, you recognize,” Choitz said. “Air packs going off, alarms activating when they became immobilized, the sound of fire, broken glass, radio traffic — we recognize it now.”
As Dome, Choitz and Detrixhe plan to put one foot in front of the other Saturday, climbing flight after flight, their minds will stay focused on the 343 heroes who didn’t hesitate.
“Most of those guys looked up and knew they were going to be fighting a losing battle, but they still moved forward,” Choitz said. “We become very task-focused and know what we need to do.”
“To them, it was another call,” Dome said. “They were going to do what they had to do no matter what.”
In their line of work, the men said they understand the risks and believe no one should ever forget all those who ultimately risked it all.
“It’s kind of drifting away from the public memory, and people are brushing it off,” Detrixhe said. “Everyone needs to sit down on this day and think about how it changed the course and history of our country.
“It was a huge thing, and I know it had a big impact on me.”