By the time the final 40 floors of steps arrived, Powell volunteer firefighter Bret Bassett had his head down and was digging deep for the strength to continue. Maybe for a few seconds he had doubts …
By the time the final 40 floors of steps arrived, Powell volunteer firefighter Bret Bassett had his head down and was digging deep for the strength to continue. Maybe for a few seconds he had doubts he could finish. But then memories of the 343 firefighters who perished in the World Trade Center Towers attack two decades ago came to him.
“I thought about what they must have been going through in their minds as they were climbing those steps,” Bassett said.
He kept his feet moving.
Powell barely has a building with enough floors to call tall, let alone 110 floors like the towers that came down on Sept. 11, 2001. But Bassett wanted to honor those fallen heroes, so he organized a group of local volunteers to do the climb in a full set of 52-pound bunkers and under air — just like those charging in that day — but on a stairmaster machine at Club Dauntless.
Bassett trains hard, often wearing a weighted vest.
“I do 200 flights in a 50-pound vest on a regular basis, but not under air,” he said.
Putting on the breathing apparatus isn’t like taking normal breaths, said volunteer firefighter Jason Fields.
“You actually have to physically work your lungs to breathe in,” he said. “It’s not like standing out here and just breathing normally.”
Fields added that, “It’s just to control our breathing when you’re in a fire — when you’re in a structure — to make sure you keep your adrenaline down and keep your breathing down. Because that air-pack is your life.”
One by one, each of the five volunteers — also including Thomas Watts, Tommy May and Pete DiPilla — put on the bunkers, mounted a large air tank on their backs and climbed on the exercise machine. Willie Onstine also volunteered to manage the equipment.
The department does exercises in air packs, including games of basketball and dodgeball, but this was different. The stairs, combined with the weight of the bunkers, was extremely difficult.
“That was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever put my body through,” said May, adding, “tomorrow is going to suck,” referring to working with sore muscles.
All five volunteers made it to “the top,” finishing 110 floors each.
“We couldn’t have made it if we didn’t have each other there pushing us,” May said.
“It’s something we did as a team,” Bassett said.
His wife, Heidi Bassett, who manages Club Dauntless, said gym owner Stacy and Devin Bair are inviting anyone who wants to experience the challenge and honor the fallen firefighters in the 9/11 attack to schedule time in the gym.
“They thought this would be an awesome experience. We’ve never done anything to honor the attack in the gym and it was time to do it,” Heidi Bassett said. “They [participants] don’t even need to be members; they can come in and do this challenge.”
The Powell firefighters plan to continue the training in hopes of qualifying for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Firefighter Stairclimb challenge in Seattle next March.
Firefighters from 26 U.S. states and six countries will participate in the challenge, a fundraiser produced by the society’s Washington/Alaska Chapter. Firefighters compete for time and dollars raised at the 788-feet-tall Columbia Center — one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi.
The event is often sold-out despite being open solely to career or volunteer firefighters competing in full structural turnout gear, including while on air. It was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Bret Bassett said they’d like to get in as a team, but the real reason for the challenge last week was to pay respects to the firefighters who were killed in the attacks 20 years ago. All other goals would be considered after the team made it up 110 floors.
“Today,” he said, “is about paying tribute to the 343 firemen that lost their lives on 9/11.”