We all have reasons for getting out of bed to take on the world.
Louie Disney, a firefighter with the Manhattan Fire Department, has never met his motivation.
“This guy for seven years has been a part of who I am,” he said. “I don’t take it lightly.”
Michael T. Quilty, 42, a member of the FDNY Ladder Company 11, was among the 343 firefighters who died responding to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center in New York City.
“Most people can’t understand why some of us have this strong of a connection,” Disney said. “It means so much to me that they paid the ultimate sacrifice. They can’t be here, but I can be here and still honor them.”
In 2011, Disney participated in a 9/11 memorial stair climb in Kansas City, where 343 firefighters climbed 110 stories in full gear to honor those first responders.
“They give you the information of who you’re climbing for, and mine was Michael Quilty,” he said. “I started researching him and looking into who he was.” Disney said he connected with Quilty after learning about how nice he was and how much he loved the community. He began honoring Quilty in other ways. Disney’s radio strap has Quilty’s name on it. Quilty’s name is on the sweatshirt that Disney wears when he works out.
“I’ve kept his name with me every year,” he said. “Whenever I do a climb, I request for his name. Sometimes I get it, and sometimes I don’t. Still, at heart, I climb for him.”
Disney grew up in the Kansas City area and worked in construction as his first career.
“I come from a big construction family,” he said. “I’m the first firefighter in my family.”
Disney began volunteering as a firefighter 10 years ago in De Soto.
“I just thought I would be a volunteer,” he said. “My passion for being a firefighter grew more. It looked better and better as I got more training.”
Disney said he enjoys being there for the community.
“I mostly get gratification out of this job when we go on medical calls and help somebody out, or we go to the schools and help teach kids about how to get out of the house safely,” he said.
Despite growing up in Kansas City, Disney said Manhattan, where he has been for almost two years, is the right size for him.
He said he appreciates the camaraderie that comes with a smaller department.
“I wanted to be a firefighter in a smaller town,” he said. “Manhattan looked like the right size for me, so I could be a name rather than a number.”
Louie Combs, a 34year veteran with Manhattan Fire Department, said Disney is a willing pupil as he works to move up in the ranks.
“He seems focused on doing his job right,” he said.
Disney said his focus comes from Quilty.
“Every day at work, I try to be the best firefighter I can be to make him proud and to make my family proud,” he said.
Disney has participated in the event at Kansas City annually and climbed at the New York City Memorial Stair Climb for the past two years.
“Once you start the climb, you’re in New York, where everything happened,” he said about the latter climb. “It’s very emotional. It’s very moving. It feels unreal when you’re there.”
The most recent New York climb on March 19 will have a special place in Disney’s heart.
Disney again climbed for Quilty, but he and some participants also did a second climb for firefighters whose climber couldn’t make it.
“I soon as I got to the top, I was pretty much gassed out,” he said. “I had the shirt from his station on. It was all wet, so I decided to go change.” As he did, Disney said a man asked him about the shirt. He told the man that he climbed for Quilty.
“He said, ‘I’m his son,’” he said. “I got chills when he said that. It just dropped my jaw. I couldn’t believe it.”
Disney said he went to dinner with Quilty’s son and daughter after that.
“That made my year,” he said. “I’ve been climbing for this guy for seven years. They never knew that I took their dad’s name to heart.”