From left, R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility Fire Chief Mario Hernandez and fellow stair-climbers Katrina, Vic, Mario and Paul participated in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in San Diego.

From left, R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility Fire Chief Mario Hernandez and fellow stair-climbers Fire Capt. Katrina Webb, Food Manager Victor Acosta, Chula Vista Fire Youth Explorer Program Mario Hernandez (son of the fire chief) and RJD Plant Operations Paul Moss participated in the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in San Diego.

By Estela Acosta, Health Program Specialist I (Dental), R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility 

Step by step, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation firefighters recently remembered those who gave their lives to save others.

R.J. Donovan (RJD) Correctional Facility staff participated in this year’s 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Hilton Bayfront in San Diego. They joined 911 participants who climbed 110 flights of stairs, representing the same amount of floors in the World Trade Center.

091114 stair climb logo

It comes natural for RJD Fire Chief Mario Hernandez to feel passionate about this tribute to all those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.

One of Chief Hernandez’s friends, a lieutenant with the New York Fire Department, was trapped in the rubble after the second tower fell.

“My friend, Lt. Joe Torrillo, was trapped twice in the rubble. He was pulled out from the rubble of the second tower,” Hernandez said. “He was the only one who made it of his unit. When they were transporting him and tower one fell, he was trapped again.”

Hernandez recruited participants from the RJD Food and Plant Ops departments, as well the Chula Vista Youth Fire Explorer Program.

After the event, stair climbers described fatigue and lack of oxygen, while some “pulled-over” to catch their breath and regain energy.

“We carried a full complement, gear weighing 112 pounds, which is what the firefighters during the 9/11 attacks were carrying,” Hernandez said. “Hose packs, their bottles for air and all their safety equipment. I can’t complain. If I’m carrying all this up for 1110 flights, it’s OK. I know, unlike the firefighters on 9/11, I’m coming back down.”

What happened 13 years ago in New York City, when two planes hit the Twin Towers in a terrorist attack, was mass hysteria, bloody scenes, fires blazing, smoke invading every crevice, and first-responders sacrificing their own safety and chance of survival by going back in to try and save “one” more.

Hernandez tries in his own way to help those who have given so much.

“Collectively, I’ve done this for three years,” Hernandez said. “Between last year and this year, we raised almost $4,000 we donated to the Fallen Police and Firefighters Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.”

Hernandez was grateful for the support.

“I wanted to thank our institution because we had a fundraiser and burrito sale and we raised almost $900 here and it all went straight to that fund,” he said. “I wanted to thank all the officers.”