It was not the usual workout scene at Planet Fitness in Mt. Juliet on Sept. 11.
What caught the eye in the crowded gym were three fully-geared Fire Department of Mt. Juliet firefighters strong and steady, taking grueling steps on the gym’s stair climbers. However, it wasn’t for a workout; instead they took 2,400 staggering steps for just shy of an hour.
Gym members were mesmerized at the scene that was an emotional and exhausting tribute by the local firefighters in honor of the 343 first responders who died 18 years ago in the terrorist attacks in New York.
The group decided they wanted, and needed, to simulate the 110-story climb their fallen comrades endured that day when first responders entered the burning buildings and climbed to rescue.
FDMJ Captain Jason Ross and firefighters Jordan Hastings and William Tuggle wanted to do the climb on the anniversary of the attacks. The three donned full firefighting gear in the symbolic gesture.
FDMJ Chief Jamie Luffman was there to provide encouragement. He watched the three firefighters with more than 50 pounds of gear and helmets tackle the “stairs” in a grueling attempt to honor the first responders.
Luffman watched over them like a father. For the past six years he’s taken part in a downtown Nashville tribute climb. He said he missed the deadline to apply this year, but plans to climb again next year.
“This was Captain Ross’s idea,” he said as he watched over his employees on the stair climbers. “He worked with the management here to reserve three of the stairclimbers.”
Luffman spoke quietly and said 18 years ago firefighters tried to climb the 110 stories and, “then had to fight the fire and rescue.”
“They still had to do the job at the end of the climb,” he said. “They went far beyond the measure they were trained for. I’m proud of these three guys this morning, and the ones who will walk the climb downtown with hundreds of firefighters across this region. I’m proud of all our firefighters. We have 20 of the finest firefighters in the world working for Mt. Juliet.”
As the firefighters pushed on at the gym, never once did they deter from their goal. Midway through their “climb,” four members of Rehab 23 (an all-volunteer organization that provides support to the 500-plus first responders in Wilson County) provided wet towels, power drinks and enthusiastic encouragement.
Dawna LoPiccolo was also on hand. “You got this!” she said over and over as she wrung out towels for the three to drape on their heads to cool down. She was at the 9/11 site after the attack and volunteered four months at the scene.
“They will finish this,” she repeated. “These are my brothers at FDMJ. I’ve known them and have seen some promoted. I know what’s in their hearts for this tribute. They are honoring those brave men and women.”
Ross was the first to finish. He climbed off the machine and quickly took off his suit.
“It was an honor,” he said trying to catch his breath. “It’s not about us. We are honoring those who lost their lives 18 years ago, about at this time.”
Hastings and Tuggle finished soon after Ross. All three were all smiles and quickly recovered.
“I guess I trained,” Hastings said. “Normally I try to get out here almost every day.”
He’s participated in the downtown climb three times. He said he was thinking about the Twin Tower first responders while he climbed onto the climbing machine.
“They didn’t stop, and neither would I,” he said.
LoPiccolo gave each of the firefighters two pins to wear to illustrate and salute 9/11.
“I did this today for the guys and women and their sacrifice,” said Tuggle, who said he planned to participate in the Sept. 15 memorial stair climb in Nashville.