Standing outside the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas in San Antonio Wednesday, Brown County Sheriff’s deputy Greg Parrott started to second-guess himself.
Parrott had been training for the two stairway ascents he planned to make — 68 stories each trip — in honor of the first responders who lost their lives in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
But as Parrott looked at the younger first responders from around the state, he wasn’t sure if he could do it. “I’m old,” the 54-year-old deputy told himself.
His worries were for nothing.
In a sheriff’s office conference room Thursday, Parrott was joined by Sheriff Vance Hill and Brownwood Police Chief Ed Kading.
Parrott reflected to the media on the climb he and Brownwood police detective Kris Salazar participated in the previous day — the San Antonio 110 9/11 Memorial Climb.
Salazar was out on an investigation and could not be present as Parrott spoke.
Wednesday marked the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers after Islamic terrorists flew hijacked airliners into the buildings.
First responders made the climb twice for a total of 136 stories in order to exceed the 110 stories of the Twin Towers, Parrott said. After first responders ended their climbs, civilian participants made their own climb.
Parrott and Salazar elected to make the climbs wearing their SWAT uniforms and full SWAT gear. Both men are members of the SWAT team operated jointly by the police department and sheriff’s office.
Salazar had participated in three previous climbs. It was Parrott’s first.
“(Wednesday), I had an amazing opportunity to honor our law enforcement officers who perished in a cowardly act of terrorism 18 years ago," Parrott wrote on his Facebook page. “Afterward, I had the humbling honor of placing Officer Reynolds’ name on an American flag, then publicly calling out his name and ringing a brass bell, symbolizing my gratitude to the men and women that day. Let us never forget!”
Parrott was referring to Port Authority police officer Bruce Reynolds, one of 70 law enforcement officers who died while attempting to rescue victims in the Twin Towers.
On Salazar’s Facebook page, Salazar wrote, “This year I climbed for NYPD Officer John Perry. Blessed to do this event to remember all those that were lost that day.”
“I’m proud of them,” Hill said. “(Parrott and Salazar) both do an excellent job representing our agencies and our SWAT team. I think it’s amazing that they wanted to do it and that they did do it. It was a goal of theirs and I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Kading said, “I’m also very proud of both of them. I have so many impressions about this. Number one, just the fact that in our country and definitely our state, we remember and we never forget.
“We honor public safety, firemen, police officers, just the sheer volume of citizens that perished that day.”
Kading, who previously commanded the San Angelo Police Department’s SWAT team, said he understood Parrott’s and Salazar’s mindset as SWAT team members.
“The mindset they had is ‘we’re just going to do this,’” Kading said. “‘It doesn’t matter how hard it is, it doesn’t matter how long it takes, it doesn’t matter what we encounter, we’re simply going to do this.’
“That was the mission of the day and that’s what they did. But it’s hard. I’ve never done that many stairs.”
Salazar, Kading said, “is such a nice young man but he is in great shape. He’s a great example for the SWAT team. I’m so glad that we had a representative from the sheriff’s department and the police department there.”
Referring to Salazar and Parrott, Kading continued, “there is no better example of a public servant than these two guys right here.”
Parrott said his 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son accompanied him to the Tower of the Americas. The two missed school to make the trip — not a frequent occurrence, Parrott said, but sometimes learning takes place beyond the classroom.
After Parrott and Salazar participated in a group photo, the opening ceremonies began which included an honor guard, a pipes and drums band and the playing of “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes.
Recordings of radio traffic involving police officers and firefighters were played.
“You hear the radio traffic of the officers and firemen saying ‘planes just hit the towers, we need units over here,’ setting up the perimeter,” Parrott said.
“You hear officers talking about ‘I’m going into the building, I can’t get very far, there’s a lot of smoke.’ Then you hear the heart wrenching cries for help from firemen and officers who are on their radios, saying ‘I’m trapped, I can’t breathe, I don’t think I can hold on much longer.’” So it just really is a very solemn experience.”
As Parrott prepared for his first ascent, he determined that if he faltered, he’d draw inspiration by looking at the tag and photo he carried of the Port Authority police officer.
But Parrott never had to do that.
“As we are walking into the Tower of the Americas corridor and approaching the stairs, they have an honor guard on either side of us,” Parrott said. “They are playing bagpipes, Amazing Grace, and we’re being saluted as we go in.”
First responders passed a piece of iron from one of the Twin Towers. The iron was attached to a podium near the stairs, and first responders were asked to touch the iron as they passed by.
Parrott assumed it would be hot in the stairwell. To prepare himself, Parrott had practiced ascending bleachers while wearing his SWAT gear.
“That paid off in dividends because it was hot,” Parrott said. “There was absolutely no circulation. You had hundreds of people in the stairwell at one time and just no breeze. No air at all. And some people were falling out because of it.
“Can’t tell you how many people we stepped over or passed and kept going. It doesn’t even begin to give you a full appreciation for what the first responders went through in the towers when they were on fire, but it was still challenging enough just to go through this under very sterile conditions, with no emergency awaiting us at the top.”
Parrott and Salazar reached the top, took drinks of Gatorade and descended the stairs. They did not pause at the bottom but immediately began their second ascent.
“Once we completed both ascents and descents, we walked out and there was an American flag there, and they asked that we sign the name of the individual we were representing to that flag,” Parrott said.
First responders then placed the tags with photos they carried on an “accountability board.” Next they stepped to a microphone, read the name of the person represented by the tag and rang a brass bell.
On the way home, Parrott told his son and daughter he wanted them to write papers about their experiences at the climb and turn the papers in to their teachers.
Parrott said his daughter at first protested writing a paper. Once they got home, Parrott said, his daughter started to write.
“Four pages later I finally told her ‘put a period on this thing. You have got to go to bed,’” Parrott said.
“She was so proud of her paper. She absolutely remembered so much more than I did.”
Parrott said his son wrote a paper and “some of his comments were just so insightful from the perspective of the child of a law enforcement officer.”
Parrott said he’s glad he made the climb and will “absolutely” do it again.