Volunteer firefighters from Hatteras village to the town of Duck took a pause from their nonstop recovery work to pay tribute to the fallen heroes of 9/11 through their annual climb to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
The climb, which is now in its seventh year, is a tribute to the 2997 people who died on September 11 in New York, Washington, D.C., and near Shanksville, P.A. More than 400 first responders died at the Twin Towers, including 343 firefighters, 23 members of the New York City police force, and 37 members of the Port Authority Police.
Despite working 24/7 to help community members in need ever since Dorian made landfall on Friday, more than 40 volunteer firefighters representing every station on the island, as well communities up the beach, turned up at the lighthouse in full gear to pay tribute to their fallen first responder and firefighter brethren.
“The worst times bring us together,” said organizer Jeffrey Del Monte. “If you’re [a firefighter in this community], you already have a sense of dedication and commitment… we hope this dedication and commitment [continues to] spread throughout the community.”
“We know we still have work to do,” he said after the climb, telling the assembled volunteers that they should take a break after the exhausting trek to the top before returning to their respective stations, and returning to recovery work.
“This is a thank you to all of our first responders, firefighters, and law enforcement, and a chance to look at the bigger picture,” said Dare County Commissioner for Hatteras Island, Danny Couch. “In the midst of all this mess we’re dealing with, we have an opportunity to focus on what’s important.”
The climb began at exactly 8:46 a.m. – the time that that American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City – and the firefighters made the trek weighted down in full gear as a tribute to the first responders who made their way up the Twin Towers.
Despite the hot and sticky weather that has been a hallmark since Dorian tore through the Outer Banks, the firefighters once again made the climb to the top and back in record time. The first firefighters returned to the base of the lighthouse by 9:08 a.m., while the last group were on the ground by 9:16 a.m.
After the climb, the group did indeed take a break in the shade of the historic lighthouse before the discussion immediately turned back to what still needed to be done to get Hatteras Island back to normal. More than one volunteer touched on the absence of the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department, noting that “they would definitely be here if they could.”
This year’s 9/11 climb was a last-minute event, and it wasn’t until Tuesday that organizers were able to confirm that, despite the storm, the annual tribute was still a go. Considering that every station on the island remains in a constant state of activity to help residents in need, the fact that every village was represented made the tribute all the more moving and special to the volunteers and spectators alike.
“[This is] an opportunity to recognize firefighters and emergency responders for everything they do – and are continuing to do – all the time,” said David Hallac, National Park Superintendent for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. “Sometimes you need to stop what you’re doing, and honor heroes.”