At age 24 now, Matthew Dion was only a child when the tragedy of 9/11 shattered the peace of an unsuspecting world; with lives and buildings destroyed as everyday heroes and heroines such as police officers and firefighters saved and protected–all the while putting themselves at risk. Yet as a firefighter himself and as an American patriot, he felt compelled to honor those who gave their all. And this Sept. 11, he took some ‘steps’ in the right direction.
Dion, a onetime lifeguard at the YMCA of the Suncoast–Hernando County in Spring Hill and currently a firefighter with Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services, visited the YMCA last Friday after a grueling 24-hour shift. Working on no sleep and in full firefighter gear, he mounted a gym stepper machine and completed an astounding 110 stories–equalling the number of floors in each of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center–in honor of 9/11.
“I had heard of other firefighters around the country doing this style of event and felt really inspired by it. What those firefighters did on 9/11 was truly incredible,” said Dion, a resident of Hernando since early childhood. “From the personal sacrifice to the amount of physical and mental strain they were put through, all for the safety of others, is something that should never be forgotten.”
Since his March 2020 hire at Station 12A of the Hernando County Fire Department, Dion’s appreciation for his noble profession–and its history–has deepened and expanded.
“As a new firefighter, there has been so much to learn and train for. It was in the fire academy that the magnitude of what those men and women did really hit me. Training in a controlled environment is one thing, but dealing with such a large scale scene like they did is a completely different situation, those were real lives and real danger,” he said. “The fire service is all about having each other’s back, making sure everyone goes home. Those brave men and women gave everything they had so that others may live. The unity and sacrifice they gave are inspiring to us all.”
“On 9/11,” he said, “we were all brothers and sisters.”
In preparing for his step presentation, Dion did his best to replicate the experience of firefighters who reported to duty at the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
“The twin towers, from what I could find, had 110 stories in each of the buildings and that is how many I intend to climb. I dressed in bunker gear which consists of boots, bunker pants and jacket, Nomex hood, SCBA mask, and helmet,” he said. “To the layperson that may sound like a lot, but the firefighters on 9/11 would have had even more. Hoses, tools, and an air pack are just some of the tools they carried into the towers with them.”
Amber Slusser, executive director of the YMCA of the Suncoast–Hernando County, says that–aside from honoring a pivotal event in national history–Dion marks his own chapter in the history of 9/11 remembrances at her YMCA location.
“Having Matt walk stairs in honor of the lives lost and the countless men and women who were there to aid in the midst of the emergency is a testament to how we need to continue to remember such a life-changing event. Back in 2002, a group of volunteers started our annual Run to Remember 5k Run/1-mile Walk for the very same purpose: to honor the lives lost and to never forget,” said Slusser. “Since that time, each year the Hernando County YMCA has had hundreds of people out to participate in the event and showcase how our community will always remember. Unfortunately with COVID-19 this year and many events being canceled, this was an event that we are devastated that we couldn’t hold.”
Yet thanks to Matthew Dion, due tribute was made–and to those who deserve it most.
“Having Matt here doing what he is doing, allows us to continue to hold this day in the light of remembrance that it needs to be held in,” said Slusser. “We hope that everyone at least takes a moment of silence today for the lives lost and provides a little bit of praise and encouragement to the community heroes that we have working to protect us each day.”
And in the mind and heart of Matthew Dion, who plans to repeat this event next year with additional participants, remembrance does not end with tragedy.
“I want people to remember 9/11 and never forget that day, but I want them to remember 9/12 as well,” said Dion. “Our whole country was united, we were ALL proud to be Americans. You couldn’t even go to the store to buy an American flag because they were all sold out.”
“We all joined hands and honored those who had fallen,” said Dion, “and I would love to see that kind of unity in our country again.”