110. It’s the number of stories that firefighters were attempting to climb during the attacks on 9/11 in order to save the lives of those trapped inside the World Trade Center. It is estimated that they only made it to about the 80th floor before the collapse. The memorial 9/11 stair climb Cameron “Rhino” Owens participated in at Lucas Oil Stadium this past April is the equivalent of those 110 stories, which is no easy task in full firefighter gear.
“At the beginning of the third lap, you ring a bell,” said Rhino. “That bell ring signifies the firefighter you’re climbing in memory of. On 9/11 the firefighters actually only made it to approximately the 80th floor. Ringing that bell signifies that you made it to the place they did. You go to the end and don’t give up, or quit. You push through the pain because you have to finish what they started.”
This is the second time Rhino has participated in the 110-story event held jointly by the FDIC International Convention and the National Fallen Firefighters Organization. Although he wasn’t able to complete the climb last year, he was able to find the strength to finish this year.
“This year I was a little more prepared. I knew the climb was going to be extremely tough to do the entire way, but I felt I was up to it. I worked out more this year and felt a lot stronger and better. My goal this year was to finish the entire climb no matter what it took,” said Rhino.
Rhino also attributes his success this year to encouragement from his fraternity brothers. What started out as a pre-planned push from two brothers turned into his phone blowing up with text messages from a lot of the active chapter.
“At first it was just Nate [Pelton] and Chris [Caress],” said Rhino. “The original plan was to FaceTime, but I didn’t have Wi-Fi during the climb, so they just had to text and Snapchat me when they got the chance. Then, I think I was about half way through, a notification popped up saying Nate posted in our Facebook group. Before I could even check what that said a message came in from Danny Du Bois, and then more flooded me. My phone just kept going off from every app it seemed. It was all words of encouragement and it helped, a lot. Right around the time they flooded me I had hit a wall. I was extremely tired and just waiting till I had strength to move again. Those messages pushed me through that lap, and the next until I finally made it to the top of the 110 stories. I honestly don’t know if I could have made it without my brothers’ help.”
Rhino claimed to have goosebumps throughout the entire event, noting that the experience of the event is an amazing thing to be a part of. The FDIC International Convention is the largest convention held in the country each year for firefighters.
“The sound of the bagpipes at the beginning, and the ringing of the bell that honors another fallen brother sends chills down my spine. I love the event because we get to honor the brothers that did what firefighters do. They put their lives at risk, and sacrificed them to save others’ lives. They left families and friends behind to save people that they didn’t even know. That’s something I’m prepared to do myself, it’s something you have to be able to do when you’re a firefighter,” said Rhino.
Rhino’s dedication to the events he participates in at the FDIC convention each year carries over into his career as a volunteer firefighter. Although he’s only been a fire fighter for a little more than 2 years, his commitment to firefighting has actually been a part of his entire life. Rhino’s family has had volunteer firefighters for four generations, including his mother and father, Sean and Jennifer Owens.
“Growing up in a fire department family encouraged me to become one,” said Jennifer. “After Sean and I got married, and had Cameron, we were on our own. It was the first time I was away from that lifestyle. I really missed it so when we moved to the community we live in now, I decided to take the first responder class so I could get certified. I actually took the class with my sister. Once certified I applied to the department. I started as a first responder, but soon took the training to become a fireman. I am the first and only female in our department.”
The Owens family are volunteer firefighters in their hometown of Francisville, Ind. While Jennifer had grown up in a family of firefighters, Sean was not exposed to volunteering until he met Jennifer and her family. Her brother is the fire chief in his department, which includes their dad, uncle and cousin.
“Her father and uncle were on the local department and I always admired them for their dedication to the department. No matter the time of day, or what was going on at the time, they would drop what they were doing and leave to help someone who was in danger,” said Sean.
With both of his parents being volunteers, Rhino’s childhood experiences were a lot like his mother’s. After spending many nights on the office floor of the firehouse, Jennifer was not surprised when Rhino decided to pursue the cadet program in high school.
“He took his training while in high school so when he turned 18 he could immediately apply,” said Jennifer. “I am extremely proud of him, but of course I also worry about his safety and well-being.”
Rhino’s parents both took a day off from work to witness Rhino’s stair climb this year. They hope the climb becomes a “family tradition” like becoming a volunteer firefighter has.
“I actually cried,” said Jennifer. “I’ve had a lot of proud mommy moments in my life, but this is at the top. For Cameron to spend three grueling hours climbing to honor fellow firefighters was just amazing. Cameron has always been selfless and one of the most caring and giving people I know.”
Rhino was one of roughly 500 people to take on the event this year. Sean believes that puts “the small town kid” into an elite group of firefighters that have taken on the climb.
“Words cannot express how proud I am of Cameron doing it not once, but twice,” said Sean. “It was a grueling task that he undertook to honor people he never knew, but he understood the gravity of what he was doing. I know he struggled to complete the climb, but I knew he wouldn’t quit.”
Now that Cameron is back at home for the summer he looks forward to going back on calls at his local department.
“Being at school really made me miss it and I’m glad I can come back and still help my community,” said Rhino. “My next step is to find a way to take my firefighter 1 and 2 classes for some more advanced training. In the fall I plan on trying to join a volunteer department in the Muncie area. I would love to bring firefighting with me to school.”