As part of tradition for the past eight years, on Saturday, Sept. 8, first responders from Texas, as well as first responders from across the United States, will come together dressed in their full gear to climb 110 floors of the Renaissance Tower in downtown Dallas. Each participant will be carrying the name and photo of a first responder who lost their life trying to save others on September 11, 2001.
The annual Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb starts at 8 a.m. and after a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. for when the North Tower was struck by Flight 11, climbers will begin their ascent on the building’s staircase. Moments of silence follow for each plane crash and each building collapse, with the event concluding at noon.
At 8:40 a.m., a keynote address will be given. Usually this address was given by Raymond Pfeifer, a Hicksville resident and FDNY firefighter who responded on 9/11, spent the following weeks searching for survivors and later advocated vigorously for the Zadroga Act—signed into law in 2011 to provide healthcare for survivors of 9/11. In May of 2017, Pfeifer succumbed to 9/11-related cancer.
This year, the keynote address will be delivered by Hicksville’s Chris Howard, an FDNY firefighter who lost his father, George Howard, when the North Tower collapsed. George was a Port Authority police officer and a first responder on 9/11.
“I knew Ray my whole life; he was friends with my dad,” Howard said. “Toward the end of his life, I was helping him and the job actually took me offline and assigned me to him for his final two or three months of his life to help his family to make it easier.”
After Pfeifer’s passing, the Dallas Stair Climb received a recommendation that Howard should take on delivering the keynote address since he had such a close connection to Pfeifer. Honored to have the opportunity, Howard said he’s going to take this as a chance to remind people to never forget.
“Some people have forgotten that day, and this is definitely a day that we shouldn’t forget because the minute we do forget, that’s when history tends to repeat itself,” Howard said. “I’m definitely going to mention that everybody should learn about someone who died that day because their stories should be an inspiration to others. I’m going to do my best to make my dad proud.”
Howard was just 18 when he lost his father. Now, at age 35 with a wife, son and daughter—named Georgia in his father’s honor—he has been an FDNY firefighter since 2005 with Ladder 157 in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He also followed in his father’s footsteps and works as an instructor at the Nassau County Fire Academy.
During his trip down to Dallas, Howard hopes to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum where his father’s badge is on display.
Days after 9/11, then-President Bush spent hours at the Javits Center with families of firefighters and police officers who lost their lives. When Howard met Bush, he, his brother and grandmother presented Bush with George’s badge. His badge, number 1012, was then held up during the president’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation on Sept. 20.
“And I will carry this. It is the police shield of a man named George Howard who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others,” Bush said in his address. “It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. It is my reminder of lives that ended and a task that does not end.”
While visiting his father’s badge at the library, Howard was told Bush will be making a visit to meet him there.
“There’s definitely an immense sense of pride when it comes to my dad. The only thing I can do in my life is hope that I can live up to half of what he’s done,” Howard said. “I just want people to know who he was and know his name and know his story. There’s lots of guys who died that day, and all of them deserve to have their stories told.”
On Sunday, Sept. 9, the Hicksville Fire Department will be holding a memorial service at 10:30 a.m. at Station 3 on Strong Street. Part of the service will include dedicating the department’s new three-story training facility to Honorary Chief George Howard. George volunteered with the Hicksville Fire Department for 23 years.