It’s 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 at the Big Bear Fitness Source. Firefighter Jose “Joe” Zambrano is on the stair-master, climbing to commemorate the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. Zambrano is suited up in 50-pounds of firefighter gear, holding an American flag in his left hand, as he conquers 110 stories that represent the floors of the World Trade Centers. He has reached 30 floors by noon and has 80 more to go.
“I climb because they climbed 110 stories,” Zambrano said. “We lost 343 firefighters and thousands of innocent lives in 2001. This is a tradition to celebrate their lives and honor every first responder in the United States ... firefighters, police officers and military members. Zambrano said that every year, different cities and different fire departments participate in this tradition of climbing the same number of steps in the World Trade Center.
Zambrano lives in Big Bear City and has been an active firefighter in the El Segundo Fire Department for 11 years. In 2011, Zambrano began running triathalons and marathons, in full fire gear, for various charities and causes, such as the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation and Children with Cancer for St. Jude’s Hospital.
“I ran 12 to 14 marathons, for different causes, a year,” Zambrano said. In 2015, Zambrano ran in the New York City Marathon, 26 miles in full fire gear, to remember Brian Cannizzaro. Cannizzaro lost his life on Sept. 11, 2001, working the day shift in Ladder 101, Brooklyn, New York.
In 2018, Zambrano ran 367 miles in one week to honor Kevin Woyjek, who was one of 19 firefighters that died in 2012 battling the Yarnell Hill Fire. Woyjeck was the youngest firefighter to loose his life, 21 years old. “He died fighting,” Zambrano said about Woyjeck. Zambrano ran from the The Los Angeles County Fire Museum in Bellflower, California, to Yarnell, Arizona, where Woyjeck lost his life.
Zambrano’s son, Matteo, stands alongside his father as he climbs the stair-master at The Fitness Source. “I was young (on Sept. 11, 2001) and I learned the most through my dad,” Matteo said. “Even though I was young, my dad is a firefighter and we know it’s no easy task to climb a building that tall. I know the oath my dad takes (as a firefighter). They swear on their life to protect and serve the community.”