WATCH NOW: Hobart silent parade, stair climb honor lives lost on 9/11
HOBART — Police and fire personnel don’t work out in full gear. That’s how they go to work and respond to calls, just as their comrades did on Sept. 11, 2001.
Only difference is, 20 years ago, 412 of those first responders did not make it home.
To honor their fallen comrades from 9/11, Hobart police and fire personnel donned full gear and did the equivalent of 110 floors or 2,200 steps, the same distance on each of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center leveled that day.
Also on Saturday, four Hobart firefighters ran in full gear at the Valparaiso Popcorn Panic.
As fire crews were responding to a call that morning, a motorcade of police and fire vehicles escorted four police officers who would reenact the 110 floors on Stairmasters at Chicago Health & Fitness, a half-mile away.
“We’re in full gear, just as they were,” said Detective Cpl. Brandon Kissee, an organizer of the event and one of the runners. “We’re trying to respect their memory as best we can.”
Running with him were Officer Alexandra Meier, Capt. James Gonzales, and Capt. Donnell Etienne, an instructor at the Northwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Hobart.
Etienne said some academy students may have been 2 years old when 9/11 occurred.
“We want to lead by example and give back,” the instructor said. “We want to also remember all those who lost loved ones.”
9/11 resulted in 343 firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Meier, a four-year member of the force, was in second grade at Johnson Elementary in Highland on 9/11. “I remember everyone being really quiet and sad. Very somber,” she recalled. “It was definitely a weird feeling.”
Coming off a torn tendon, Meier said taking part in the exercise “means a lot. We’re definitely not dressed (for the gym), but they came prepared and were dressed this way. That makes this more intense.”
Gonzales said the Saturday morning event “memorializes those who lost their lives. This is the least I can do.”
Gonzales’ daughter Sara, 12, accompanied her father to the procession. “I’m proud of him,” said the Hobart Middle School seventh grader, who learned that 9/11 is “tragic, and a lot of lives were lost.”
In all, 2,977 lives were lost that day.
Fire Chief Randy Smith said it was “very special” to participate in the 9/11 event. “This was one of the biggest tragedies in our country’s history,” he said. “We want to do this not just for today, but forever.”
On the Stairmaster later that morning were Hobart Firefighters Adam Baer, Lt. Joe Levandusky, Steven Vela, and Vuk Jovanovic.
Firefighters at the Popcorn Panic were Lt. Brian DeGrauwe, Baer, Charles Sawyer, and Anthony Willison. Their chief estimated full fire gear weighs 50-60 pounds.
Kissee said this was Hobart’s third such 9/11 observance. “I’d like to see this done all over the country,” he said. “It’s great for Hobart to do this every year and honor their memory in some way.”
Attending the procession
The motorcade began in silence as a sign of mourning and respect, Kissee explained. Along the route, people sat in vehicles or stood outside senior citizen housing.
“I figured I’d come out and support them,” said Marion Roskowski.
The Hobart resident was working in his garage 20 years ago when he heard the attack news on the radio. He went inside and told his wife to turn on the TV.
“It was a shocker,” Roskowski recalled.
Others along the route echoed feelings of shock and being horrified by what they saw on TV that day.
Joanne Frizzell, of Hobart, was at work, where two television screens typically showed meetings and stock reports. “All of a sudden they changed to CNN, which they never did,” she recalled.
Supporting the procession, Frizzell added, “is a perfect way to remember them and their sacrifice.”
Nicki Jusko, Frizzell’s friend, added, “How many lives had been lost and changed forever? I want to pray for their families.”
Freda Riddle was working as a secretary at Merrillville High School when “everyone stopped and was watching the TV monitors. I was horrified, devastated, numbed.”
More people awaited the procession at the strip mall across from St. Mary Medical Center, where Chicago Health & Fitness was located and a ladder truck flew an American flag overhead.
For Mario Daklalla, owner of the health club, 9/11 is personal. “This gives me chills,” he said. “I was working in Boston, where those planes took off from. We thought we were going to be hit next.”
Daklalla added, “We’re honored and proud to be part of this.”
Also on Saturday, Mission BBQ in Merrillville held a reception for first responders.
Bagpipers from the Lake County Sheriff’s Department and Hammond Firefighters Local 556 performed “Amazing Grace” as police officers hit the Stairmasters at 8:46, the same time an aircraft slammed into the first tower in New York City.
Outside the health club were three generations of the Sam Bova family from Hobart.
“We’re here to support the United States and all those who served this country,” said Bova, who had two children in the military.
Rachel Turner, one of his daughters, brought her two children. “We wanted to show how proud we are and to commemorate their sacrifice,” the mother said.
Turner was attending Hyles-Anderson College when she learned of the attacks. Students were dismissed to follow events at home. “I was in shock,” she said. “I could not believe something like that could happen here.”
Assistant Fire Chief John Reitz was at home on 9/11, feeding his infant daughter who today is a college student.
“I turned on NBC in time to see the second plane hit the tower,” Reitz said. “I did not know what to think. Complete shock.”
John Mindas, one of the bagpipers, said he was playing for the whole country, which took a “bigger hit” on 9/11.
“It was unbelievable,” he said of the attacks. “Hopefully we’ll never forget.”