New York Fire Department Firefighter Jimmy Nelson Martinez was at Clipper Magazine Stadium on Sunday morning for the 13th annual 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb.
“This is an important event,” he said.
His father, Jimmy Martinez, was one of the hundreds of firefighters who responded to Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001. He was not among the 343 firefighters who died when the Twin Towers collapsed. But concentrated exposure to the toxins at Ground Zero over the weeks of rescue-and-recovery operations that followed led to the bone cancer that took his life at age 58 on Aug. 24, 2018.
His son said that it’s vital to keep the memory of 9-11 alive as more and more younger firefighters enter the ranks.
Chaplain Scott Yuill of the East Petersburg Fire Co. heads the committee that organizes the climb. He said 339 people took part this year — mostly firefighters, but also police officers, EMTs, family members and members of the general public.
In a long line, they ascended and descended the stadium stairs, traveling a distance equal to the Twin Towers’ 110 stories. Everybody carries a picture of one of the 9-11 first responders who died, Yuill said.
“It’s a way of symbolically showing that the person they’re walking for made it to the top of the towers, which is what everyone was trying to do that day,” to rescue and render aid to the people trapped inside, he said.
Proceeds from the climb go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to support the FDNY Counseling Service Unit and the foundation’s own work to improve safety.
Over the course of Jimmy Martinez’ 26-year career with FDNY, he responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 2011 Flight 587 crash and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
His cancer was diagnosed in 2013. It was aggressive, and neither chemotherapy nor a stem cell transplant cured it. His doctors were hopeful a bone marrow transplant could extend his life, but he died before a match could be found.
The senior Martinez believed deeply in paying it forward, his son said. He bought a van for the FDNY Family Transport Foundation, which provides rides for firefighters to medical appointments; and he spearheaded a drive to add more names to the national bone marrow registry. The family continues to organize bone marrow registry drives in his name.
The younger Martinez has participated in other 9-11 stair climbs, but Sunday’s was his first in Lancaster. He was there at the invitation of Reamstown Fire Co. member John Martinez, who relocated to the area a couple of years ago. The two men aren’t directly related, but they are fast friends and John is active in the bone marrow registry effort.
Jimmy Martinez “had the heart of a lion,” John Martinez said.
Exposure to the conditions at Ground Zero has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The FDNY World Trade Center Memorial Wall now lists 341 first responders who died from post-9-11 illnesses, reports CNN, almost equal to the 343 who died on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Unfortunately, the toll is still rising,” Jimmy Nelson Martinez said.