The Port of Seattle dedicated a “Heroes Climb Memorial” on Wednesday at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to honor the first responders who died on 9/11, days before the 20th anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Airport officials also announced Wednesday that they have set up a welcome center to connect Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover of Kabul with resettlement resources and nonprofits when they arrive at Sea-Tac.
The 9/11 memorial, located at the seventh-floor stairwell of the airport parking garage, is full of pictures of New York City before, during and after the attack; the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York; and fallen firefighters, police officers and EMTs.
Retired Port of Seattle firefighter Allen Martinez started creating the 9/11 memorial in 2014 before he hosted a small 9/11 memorial climb with his friends, in which they would put on full bunker gear and run the equivalent of 78 stories of stairs to honor the 343 firefighters who died during 9/11.
“It’s a work in progress, and I’d hoped to get all the firefighters, all 343 in there before I retired but I wasn’t able to,” Martinez said. “I’m leaving that to the younger people, hopefully they will get in there and honor that.”
Martinez said the Port firefighters started dedicating each of their training climbs through the airport stairwell to a specific first responder who died that day and would read their obituary before climbing 78 stories.
“Once we started climbing for somebody, it just meant so much more; you were no longer climbing for yourself,” Martinez said. ”By climbing for them and honoring their memory and their sacrifice, I think it helps the families.”
Over the years, firefighters from around the world — from New York and New Orleans to Croatia and Germany — have climbed the steps at Sea-Tac, Martinez said. Some of the climbers have also signed the walls of the stairwell.
“For me, it’s nothing special. It’s not a fancy memorial like other fire departments have, but to our fire department, it means a lot,” Martinez said. “It was done out of respect and love and I’m just grateful that the Port now sees how important it is and is going to make it a permanent memorial.”
The memorial’s dedication came right before representatives from the Port of Seattle and World Relief, a nonprofit that supports refugees, unveiled the airport’s temporary welcome center for people who have relocated to Seattle after fleeing from Kabul.
Many Afghan refugees landed on the East Coast over the past week and were relocated to cities across the country by nonprofit organizations and the federal government. Many of the refugees were sent to live with family members.
Seattle is expecting 400 to 600 new arrivals between now and March 2022, said Perry Cooper, media relations manager at Sea-Tac. It’s not clear how long the center will be open for.
The welcome center is a dedicated space for World Relief and other organizations to meet with families who just arrived at the airport, where they can rest, review their entry documents and meet with their case workers.
“These folks will be welcomed in various different languages,” Port Commission President Fred Felleman said. “The idea is that they would feel respected, welcomed and … to make them feel that this state, this country embraces them.”
Airport officials repurposed an area on the ticketing level that used to be a retail kiosk with temporary walls, chairs and tables to create these spaces.
Ashley Fisher, the resettlement coordinator at World Relief, said case workers with the nonprofit are paired with new arrivals for 90 days to help them resettle in the United States.
They will help them find a job, set up doctor and dentist appointments, get moved into permanent housing and register the kids for school and English as a second language classes. They will also conduct a next-day home visit to inspect their living situation.
“I think it’s a really great opportunity to provide a sense of stability during a really chaotic, sometimes stressful time in people’s lives,” Fisher said.