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343 -- Never Forget

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FDMJ Chief Jamie Luffman

Mt. Juliet firefighters to participate in 9/11 Memorial Stair climb

Three-hundred-forty-three.

That's the number of firefighters killed in the deadliest first responder incident in the history of the United States.

Fourteen years ago - today.

Seventy-two law enforcement officers were also killed.

Two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven innocent people were killed that morning, on a day that changed our world as we knew it.

Sept. 11, 2001

Anyone of age will never forget that morning. Suicide attacks were used to target symbolic U.S. landmarks. Nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners departed from the U.S. east coast, bound for California.

Two of the planes were crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia, and a fourth plane was crashed into a field after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers. It never made it to its target in Washington, D.C.

Schools were locked down, businesses closed across the U.S. Traffic stopped to listen to radio reports. Cell phone service became an issue as people tried to reach their loved ones. Lives were lost, and Americans realized they were vulnerable.

Vulnerable, but resilient. United. Strong in pain, even 14 years later.

As the nightmare unfolded in New York, firefighters ran toward, when others, who could, ran away from the scene.

On Sunday, area firefighters will honor their career brothers and sisters lost that day. The exact number lost, 343, will take part in what they admit is an emotional tribute.

Called the annual Nashville 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, it will take place at 7 a.m. at the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville. Organizers said the climb was chosen for two reasons. Fire Department of New York firefighters had to climb the stairs of the 110-story buildings in order to rescue and evacuate people and to reach the fire floors.

On Sunday, 343 local firefighters will simulate and honor that climb. In full gear, just like their fallen comrades. A second reason is the commitment to firefighter and community safety through physical fitness and training.

MJ firefighters to climb

Mt. Juliet will be well represented in the climb. Fourteen members of the Fire Department of Mt. Juliet will take part in the climb. FDMJ Chief Jamie Luffman and Volunteer Division Chief Shawn Donovan will be part of the group determined to "never forget" and honor their comrades lost on 9/11. As with all participants, Luffman and Donovan will wear a badge with the name of a fallen firefighter.

Luffman is climbing in memory of FDNY Lt. Kevin Pfeifer.

"I watched a film about 9/ll and Lt. Pfeifer stood out," Luffman said in a quiet voice.

Pfeifer's brother, Joe, a FDNY Battalion Fire Chief, was the first incident commander at the scene that fateful morning. He was investigating a gas leak moments before the attacks occurred.

"We hear this roar of the plane, and it passes to the west of us and heads for the Trade Center, and I could see the plane steer right into the building," he said in an interview with CNN correspondent Michael Okwu. "And then, there was a huge fireball. And a couple seconds later, we heard the explosion."

"The first fire chief on the scene, Pfeifer, sets up a command post on the ground floor of the North Tower," Okwu said in his report with Joe.

"In the dizzying moments ahead, he will dispatch teams of firefighters up the stairs, closer to the point of impact, including his brother, Kevin, a lieutenant with Engine 33," said Okwu.

"And I thought he [Kevin] was going to be off that day, because he was going to study for the captain's test," said Joe. "So, he comes up to me at the command post, and he doesn't say a word. And he looks at me, and I tell him where I thought the fire was. And then, it was like time just stopped. We stood there for a couple seconds, and just stood there looking at each other."

Luffman said that was the last time Joe would see his brother.

"Of course it's emotional," Luffman said.

Donovan said he's climbing for NYFD Lt. Dennis Mojicha. He wore a badge with Mojicha's name last year as well.

"It's humbling," Donovan said. "We will join firefighters from across the state on Sunday. Their families will be there. These fallen firefighters are remarkable."

Both said they want to keep their "brothers and sisters of 9/11" in memory forever, and the strenuous climb is the least they can do.

They will be loaded down with about 70 pounds of gear, just like those on 9/11 and will climb 28 stories four times to complete 110 stories. It will take about two hours.

Luffman said he's trained for months to further beef up his stamina. Donovan has as well. Both are proud so many from their department will take part in the climb.

"We are thrilled to take part," Luffman said. "This obviously is a very neat thing. We are going to celebrate their lives and the sacrifice they've made."

Jim White witnessed last year's climb.

"It was a job well done," he said. "It is a beautiful and respectful tribute, such an honor for our 343."

White is the brother of one of the fallen 343.

Writer Laurie Everett may be contacted at laurieeverett1@gmail.com

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