As time grew closer to time to climb, I knew I wasn’t ready. I had initially planned on climbing in gym clothes like the 2012 FDIC climb, but plans had changed. I had brought my gear with me, just in case. My brother, Rhett Fleitz from The Fire Critic, had mentioned early that morning that he would be climbing in gear. I decided I would too.
We carried the gear from the hotel room over to the staging area in Lucas Oil Stadium. It had been a late night the night before, and I knew I wasn’t prepared. I had a lot on my mind, and it shined through as I took each step.
Air packs were made available for climbers by Scott, and since several of the guys I was climbing with were carrying packs…I decided to as well. I felt like I had it in the bag, after all, this was the 5th climb I had participated in. In the past, I’ve worn anything from gym clothes to full turnouts w/ airpack. The difference was, I hadn’t trained in the coming weeks as I had in the past. I had figured I had in the bag. That was not the case.
This climb was different. Compared to the other climbs, the one at FDIC had seemed the easiest in the past. WHY? I was in the best shape last year than I had been before.
During the Fall of 2012, I had made two trips to New York to work with the firefighters from FDNY after Hurricane Sandy had hit. During the trip, I visited the firehouse and stayed overnight in the house of Steven Coakley. He was a firefighter on Engine 217 (FDNY) on 9-11-01. I have met several of Coakley’s family members and coworkers during my trips. I consider them friends. This is why I registered to climb for Steven, and I carry a photo of him in band on my helmet on the job. After making this connection, the climb was more than just a climb in memory of the 343. It was his coworkers, his family members, his engine, his house, and stories of his life that filled my thoughts as I climbed each step. I also used this as my motivation. (Read about the trip here, here, and here.)
Since I had not prepared, I let myself down. I was disappointed. I was overcome with emotion. My heart rate continued to rise as my body temperature did the same. I had to rest a few times just because I had worked myself up to the point that my emotions kept me from climbing. I knew if I could get my heart rate down…I could push through.
Around the half way point, I saw a brother from Sandusky, Ohio that I had overheard saying he wanted to climb with an air pack…but they didn’t have any more available. While climbing up one of the walkways, I asked him if he would like to carry the pack for me the rest of the way, which he quickly responded, “Yes, brother. I’d be glad to.” As I found a place to rest with the brothers I was climbing with, I slowly handed off the pack and lightened the load to continue.
I was climbing with one of my brothers from Kingsport, but I had told him to go on while I rested. As the climb continued, there was a pack of about 5 of us that were climbing together. Rhett Fleitz, Sonny O’Conner, Michael Smith from BoronExtrication.com, and another familiar face. As we took our last lap, I realized how I knew the other firefighter, Trevor Bertram. He offered to carry my coat, which I had allowed Rhett to do during some of the climb. With the end in site, this time I responded, “No, I’ve got this!” He then told me that I had carried his coat for him last year while he was struggling toward the end. Just by chance, we were finishing together once again.
The climb consisted of three laps through the course in the Lucas Oil Stadium, and we were on the last lap. I had threw my coat back onto my shoulders, and we walked out into the stands up top in the stadium. The bell sat at the landing, with a firefighter in his Class A uniform. He stood there with his hand raised to his brow, and each of us rang the bell before announcing the brothers that we carried around our neck. Chills shot down my spine as I rang the bell three times.
Firefighter Bruce Gary…(Ding)
Firefighter Michael Cammarata…(Ding)
Firefighter Steven Coakley…(Ding)
(The video above was captured using my FireCamHD from FireVideo.net)
I composed myself and watched our group ring the bell for each of their guys. We pushed on toward the end and finished for not only the brothers around our neck, but also others that have passed before us.
I carried Bruce Gary for Bob Gard (Canton, SD) and Michael Cammarata for Brian Edwards (Loudoun County, VA). I also climbed for Charles “Brother” Smith, Earl Morphew, WD Patterson (click here to read about WD), and all the other names I have carried in the past.
I hit the gym my first day back from Indy, and come September…I will be ready. I will not disappoint myself. I will not disappoint anyone. I will climb to the top once again for our fallen brothers.