At 8:59 a.m. on Friday morning, Sept. 11, 40 Outer Banks firefighters began climbing the 257 stairs to the balcony of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to remember their brethren and others who died in the terrorist attacks of 14 years ago.
It was a mostly cloudy morning, but it was warm and muggy as they began their ascent in full attire — coats, pants, hats, boots, and with many of them carrying about 50 pounds of gear.
“It’s really quiet going up the stairs,” says Jeffrey Del Monte, deputy chief of the Buxton Volunteer Firefighter who began organizing the event two years ago. Occasionally, someone might murmur words of encouragement to someone who is struggling, but, other than that, he says it’s very quiet.
“The firefighters are very humbled,” he adds. “It’s very moving, very emotional.”
Outside the lighthouse, friends and family gathered to support their firefighters and tourists stopped what they were doing to watch — also in silence.
After the firefighters descended, there were a few words spoken.
Del Monte reminded the crowd why the firefighters do it — to “never forget.” And, this year, Mike Regan, a retired Fairfax, Va., firefighter who now lives in Avon, also spoke about Sept. 11, 2001, a day on which he was a first responder at the Pentagon.
This third Memorial Lighthouse Climb was the best attended yet by firefighters — 40 of them from nine volunteer fire departments — Duck, Southern Shores, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Avon, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras. Another dozen or so firefighters attended, but didn’t make the climb.
After the event, the firefighters were joined by other first responders from The Dare County Sheriff’s Office, the county Emergency Medical Services, National Park Service, and Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative for a luncheon that is organized by the Cape Hatteras Baptist Church and features tables of great food donated by island businesses and restaurants.
Del Monte makes it a point to keep advertising and promotion about the Memorial Climb very low-key — there just isn’t much of it.
However, he doesn’t hold back when he promotes the local fire departments.
“We are all volunteer,” he says, “and we are always looking for new members.”