Fire Engineer Joel Gomez looked to the tag around his neck to find the motivation to march up 130 flights of stairs with more than 100 pounds of firefighting equipment.

Wednesday morning, he joined 10 other members of the Victoria Fire Department in a memorializing hike up San Antonio’s Tower of Americas to honor the 343 firefighters and dozens of other first responders killed on 9/11.

They set out at 8:46 a.m. with a moment of silence. That time marked the instant when the first plane struck the World Trade Center.

During that event, Gomez wore a tag remembering Cmdr. Donald Burns, who was killed when the second World Trade Center tower fell unexpectedly on his command center.

“They didn’t stop. They didn’t get a break. A lot of them went up the stairs, knowing that they weren’t coming back down, yet they still went,” said Gomez.

Although Gomez prepared by running on Goliad trails and up and down athletic bleachers, the Victoria fire engineer and first responder of 32 years said the event still posed a formidable challenge.

He added the cramped stairwell was without air conditioning and his suit, which is designed to keep heat out, was soon drenched in sweat.

“It’s a real test of endurance and emotion,” he said, describing the tone among participating first responders as melancholic.

With the recent death of his mother-in-law Ingrid Boehl Fossler, a woman he had forged a close relationship with, Gomez said he had planned to sit out this year.

But family members insisted he participate in part because the woman had believed in his service as a firefighter and participation in the tower climb.

Wednesday morning, he wore a T-shirt emblazoned with “Her fight is my fight,” in memory of Fossler, who succumbed to brain cancer.

Gomez also wore a small urn carrying the ashes of Lt. Ronnie Migl, a Victoria firefighter who died in June. Migl served as a role model and friend for Gomez, he said.

The symbols carried by Gomez and present at the event are important reminders, he said, for the sacrifices made regularly by first responders and their families.

“This is our way of recognizing those in our department,” he said.

Jon Wilcox reports on courts for the Victoria Advocate. He may be reached or 361-580-6515.

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Jon covers crime, public safety and the courts at the Victoria Advocate. Born in Huntsville, Ala., he grew up in Atlanta, Ga. and obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas State University.

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