A Promise to Never Forget
July 20th, 2017 by Carol Watson

Two Pensacola firefighters climb some of the 110 flights of stairs during a past Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb.
Photo courtesy of the Panama City Beach News Herald

Firefighter pays tribute to those who died on September 11 with annual stair climb

For Panama City Beach Fire Captain Terry Parris, the events of September 11, 2001, were a defining moment.

A fireman since 1991, Terry watched the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center along with millions of other Americans, and promised himself the lives of the 343 firemen who died that day would not be forgotten.

In 2011, he fulfilled that promise.

“A few years after 9/11, I read an article about firefighters in Denver who climbed 110 stories to honor the first responders who died at Ground Zero,” says Terry. “That climb helped to support the mission of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and I felt that a similar event here in Panama City Beach would be well-received. It took a lot of time and effort from a lot of caring people, and on September 11, 2011, the first Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb took place.”

Initially held at the 22-story Laketown Wharf Condos in Panama City Beach, participants climbed up and down the height of the condos five times—the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center. This year’s event is at the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, with activities beginning Thursday, September 7. The climb is Saturday, September 9. The event is open to anyone who wants to climb. More than half the participants come from out of state. Last year, 545 people climbed.

Firefighter Cody Cothran of Hoover, Alabama, is one of them.
“I was a senior in high school on 9/1l and saw the attacks on the World Trade Center from a classroom,” says Cody. “For the next few months, I volunteered at the local fire department, and after graduation, I passed the firefighter exam.”

He has worked in fire service for 14 years, the past five in Hoover. Cody has participated in the Panama City Beach Stair Climb since its inception. He drives 250-plus miles south to climb in honor of fallen 9/11 firefighter Lt. Michael Quilty, who was in Tower 2 when the first plane hit.

A member of Ladder 11 of Brooklyn’s Borough Park firehouse, Quilty had been a firefighter for 20 years. He earned two unit citations, including the Fire Marshals’ Benevolent Association Medal in 1997. In an odd twist of fate, Quilty once visited Panama City Beach.

“In the late ’90s, Michael Quilty and his son were taking scuba diving lessons during a family vacation in Panama City Beach when a woman on her first dive panicked and began to ascend too rapidly,” says Cody. “Despite having known this woman for less than 10 minutes, he didn’t hesitate to risk his life and bring her to the surface. It was the same type of selfless act that would be repeated over and over again at Ground Zero.”

Hundreds of courageous acts were performed on 9/11 by first responders and civilians alike. Many of their stories will never be told. They were silenced forever when the twin towers fell.

The horrific death toll that day—2,606 in the World Trade Center, 265 on the four planes and 125 at the Pentagon—continues to increase 16 years after the attack due to the toxic dust spread and inhaled as the towers fell to the ground.

Just days after the attacks, firefighters, EMTs and civilians began arriving at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital with severe respiratory problems.

“The symptoms these patients had were terrifying,” says Dr. Michael Crane, director of the hospital’s World Trade Center Health Program. “They would suddenly wake up and find they couldn’t breathe. Although we will never know the exact composition of the cloud of dust they inhaled, what we do know is that it had all kinds of god-awful things in it including jet fuel, plastics, metal, fiberglass and asbestos.”

In addition to respiratory problems, those who inhaled the toxic dust have suffered a number of other debilitating illnesses, including cancer. In 2014, an FDNY study revealed that cancer incidence among New York City firefighters at Ground Zero had increased by nearly 20 percent compared to firefighters who were not exposed.

The World Trade Center Health Program was reauthorized for an additional 75 years December 18, 2015.

“We must remember that the events of 9/11 have continued to exact a toll on every firefighter and first responder who was at Ground Zero that day, as well as the families of the 343 firefighters who died when the twin towers collapsed,” says Terry. “That is why we are committed to continuing the Memorial Stair Climb. Last year, nearly $30,000 was raised and submitted to the National Firefighters Foundation and First Responder projects from donations and climb registration fees.

“The incredible courage of the New York Fire Department in the performance of their duties on 9/11 is the reason the Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb began and the reason it will continue. Our goal is to ensure that the sacrifices these individuals made on that day will never be forgotten.”

To register for the 2017 Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb, visit www.pcbstairclimb.com.