NEW YORK, NY — In an ultimate challenge of his stamina, strength and determination, a nine-year veteran of the Westfield Fire Department recently joined a select group of first-responders who stepped up to honor 9/11 victims.

Firefighter Ryan Dullea participated in the fifth annual New York City Memorial Stair Climb May 4, a tribute to the first-responders who died during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, as well as those who have died from 9/11-related illnesses.

Wearing full firefighter gear weighing about 60 pounds, Dullea and nearly 400 others climbed the 80 floors of 3 World Trade Center to memorialize those victims, whose photos were displayed on every floor on the way up and carried by every participant making the climb.

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“Your heart rate is elevated, breathing rate is increased, and the gear made everything uncomfortable,” said Dullea, who has completed previous stair climbs in full firefighter gear up to 40 stories.

A nonstop walk with no breaks, he completed the climb in about 28½ minutes, calling it “one of the most mentally tough things” he has ever done.

“At one point, it wasn’t the jacket, pants, helmet or air pack that bothered me; it was the gloves. For whatever reason, I wanted to rip the gloves right off my hands,” he said, adding that the 60 pounds of encapsulating gear did “a wonderful job of keeping the heat in.” 

Dullea powered ahead, remembering a sign that was on a wall inside the building at the start of the climb. It read: “It’s not about you. It’s about them.”

“That quote stuck with me the whole climb,” Dullea said. “The reason I climbed was for those who tragically lost their lives on 9/11.”

In Westfield, Dullea's off-duty efforts were met with praise from acting Fire Chief Anthony Tiller.

“Firefighters do it on their own time but they still represent the department – on duty and off duty,” Tiller said. “So I think it's great that he participated in this event.”

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Dullea participated in the climb through 5-5-5 Fitness, an Allentown-based group whose goal is to help reduce the number of firefighters who die in the line-of-duty by promoting a healthier lifestyle, and by providing fitness equipment grants and free firefighter workouts.

Earlier this month, Dullea, returned to New York City for the Tunnel to Towers Tower Climb at 1 World Trade Center. Climbing 101 stories but without the gear during the June 2 event, he was part of a team raising money to build a “smart home” through the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation for Cpl. Scott Nokes, a Neptune firefighter who lost his legs and eyesight due to complications from an infection he received while serving in Afghanistan.

Ground is soon expected to be broken on a tailor-made dwelling in Howell for Nokes.

The New York-based Tunnel to Towers Foundation’s mission is to honor "the sacrifice of firefighter Stephen Siller who laid down his life to save others on September 11, 2001" by supporting injured first-responders and military service members, as well as the families of those who have died.

TAPinto Westfield Staff Writer Matt Kadosh contributed to this story. Cathy Goetz is the Publisher of TAPinto Belmar/Lake Como.