Las Vegas Sun

June 16, 2024

Remembering 9/11:

Vegas firefighters mark day with stair climb

9/11 Parade

Steve Marcus

City of Las Vegas firefighter Gregg Burns, left, and Capt. Eric Littman march in a Heroes Parade in downtown Las Vegas Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. The event began at 5:46 a.m., the moment the first tower was hit on 9/11.

9/11 Heroes Parade

John and Lisa Karounos, originally of New York, watch as fire trucks pass by during a Heroes Parade in downtown Las Vegas Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Michael Ragussa, a relative, was a firefighter killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, John Karounos said. The parade began at 5:46 a.m., the moment the first tower was hit on 9/11.   Launch slideshow »

9/11 Memorial Ceremony

Joe Page, a member of the Clark County Fire Department honor guard, uses the reflective side of his fire engine as a mirror as he gets ready for a 9/11 memorial ceremony at Police Memorial Park on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas firefighter Gregg Burns found new life for an American flag he received in a Sunday morning parade marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He stuck it to his helmet for his 108-story climb a couple of hours later up the Stratosphere casino tower on the Las Vegas Strip.

Around his neck, the 49-year-old firefighter bore the names of New York firefighters Thomas Gambino Jr. and Stephen E. Belson, who perished in the collapse of the 110-story World Trade Center towers.

“Bottom line, this is for them,” Burns said, sweating in his heavy turnout coat as he and 290 other southern Nevada firefighters and police officers prepared to ascend the tallest building in Las Vegas in memory of the 343 firefighters and 60 police officers who died climbing the tallest buildings in New York City a decade ago.

“This is nothing like what those guys went through,” Burns said. “People need to be reminded.”

Across Nevada, officials and first responders tolled bells, placed wreaths, bugled taps, stood silently and marked the anniversary of the attacks that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash of hijacked United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

“Disbelief, horror, confusion, anger, sadness. We felt all these things,” Gov. Brian Sandoval said in prepared remarks at a ceremony at the Reno Balloon Races at Rancho San Rafael Park.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, Americans from all walks of life stepped into the breach,” the governor said. “They stared down danger, regardless of the consequences.”

Pieces of the World Trade Center were on display in several places around the state, including in Las Vegas.

“I don’t know if I can go up and touch that,” said Jim Gunderson, 57, as he and Connie Lewis, 61, quietly watched tourists approach a steel I-beam on the Fremont Street Experience pedestrian mall next to the downtown Golden Nugget casino.

“I don’t know if I’m worthy,” he said.

Gunderson, a computer technologist from of Bakersfield, Calif., recalled watching the two World Trade Center towers burn and then fall as a life-changing event.

“I just remember the faces of the people and the soot and the people running down the street,” he said. “How can you ever forget it? It was surreal.”

Alexandra Kubiak, 9, stepped forward and touched the rivets of the steel beam while her father, Matthew Kubiak, 39, snapped a photo.

“A plane crashed into a building,” the Las Vegas fourth-grader said after they stepped back and considered what she’d been taught about the event that occurred several months before she was born. “It was sad because the building crashed down. And people jumped out.”

“I hope Alex remembers this country is great and the world is a better place because of this country,” Matthew Kubiak said as he considered America before and after the attacks.

“It unified the country. For a while it was great to see people come together to help each other,” he said. “But as time has gone by, those feelings have faded and become sensationalized.”

Outside the Stratosphere, North Las Vegas firefighter and paramedic Chad Reyes, 28, clipped into his usual 50 pounds of protective gear and air supply tanks for the 20-plus-minute trek up the 1,149-foot Stratosphere tower. He also bore a memorial photo of New York City Firefighter Ronnie L. Henderson.

Taking part in the memorial was simply the right thing to do, Reyes said.

As he waited to join the procession up the stairs, Clark County Firefighter Jon Fleischman, 39, remembered watching, stunned, as the television at his fire station showed the collapse of the 1,362- and 1,368-foot Trade Center towers.

“When those towers fell, my first thought was, `How many firefighters just died?”’ Fleischman said. “This is tough. It’s hard to do. But that’s what they did.”

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