Today marks 14 years since the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed in a terrorist attack, killing thousands of people. This weekend, 12 local firefighters will be honoring the 343 firefighters who lost their lives trying to help others during that tragic day.
Six firefighters from the Sedalia Fire Department and six from the Pettis County Fire District will be donning their full gear and air tanks and climbing 110 stories worth of stairs at the Town Pavilion in Kansas City for the annual Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.
“It’s a respect thing,” SFD driver Mitch Friedly said of why he is participating in the climb for a second year. “There’s a whole lot of pride that goes into what we do and supporting fallen firefighters is obviously a big part that goes into it. It’s all part of who you are as a firefighter.”
Registration is limited to 343, to honor the 343 NYFD firefighters who died Sept. 11, 2001. Before the teams begin their difficult task of climbing almost 2,500 stairs, a ceremony is hosted to remember 9/11, and to give the history of the climb.
The first wave of teams begin their climb at 8:56 a.m., when the first plane hit the Twin Towers in 2001.
“It’s very emotional — you’re reliving 9/11, that’s exactly what you’re doing,” said PCFD Capt. Mark Stevenson, who will be participating for the third time. “Before you go up they have a piece of the towers there you physically touch.”
The stairwells are lined with photos of the 343 fallen firefighters along with drawings from local elementary students.
Each team will make the 38-story trek multiple times to get to the 110 mark, with an elevator ride to get them to the bottom each time to begin again. PCFD will be represented by Stevenson, Lt. Matt Beason, Lt. Tom Dugan, Lt. Chad Danlo, firefighter Devlin Tippett and firefighter Matt Gardner. SFD will be represented by Friedly, Josh Nelson, Kyle Gilmore, Wes Elliott, Nathaniel Nevels and Alex Quinn.
“I know our guys have been training for this for months and months,” Friedly said. “We go in between running three miles or so and then the next day we’ll come and put an air pack on and run stairs in our tower. It takes a long time to be able to go do that.”
At the end of their last set of stairs, each team will ring a bell signifying their completion, and to honor the firefighters they are representing. Many firefighters try to request climbing for the same person each year, such as Stevenson. He has climbed in honor of Lawrence Stack, Battalion 50, for all three years he has participated, and has even contacted Stack’s family to let them know he is climbing for Stack.
“I know who I climb for, where he came from,” Friedly said. “We bought shirts from whatever station they were from. When you get done climbing you ring the bell and announce who you climbed for. It really ties the guys to the reason they’re doing it.”
According to the event website, the first known 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb event occurred Sept. 11, 2003, during “Operation Enduring Freedom” in Parwan Province, Afghanistan. Albuquerque Fire Department Lt. Charles Cogburn scaled a two-story building 55 times wearing body armor, a helmet and an M-4. When he returned home, the climb was brought back to Albuquerque in 2004, and Colorado firefighters created their own in 2005.
“The 2008 event also included a new remembrance component: each climber was assigned a badge, with the name and photograph of one of the fallen firefighters of 9/11, symbolically completing the climb with one who couldn’t,” the website states.
From there, the event spread across the country, and on average, 30 climbs occur every year.
“I absolutely look forward to this,” Stevenson said. “This year we did something special, we made an American flag out of a fire hose; we just finished up (Thursday afternoon). … Every year we sponsor a floor and either the flag goes on our floor, or displayed somewhere in the display.”
The KC climb takes place the Sunday after Sept. 11, and 9/11 will fall on a Sunday in 2016, which Stevenson said will be “an emotional year” for the event. Participants are encouraged to raise $1 per floor, and all proceeds from the event will go to SAFE — Surviving Spouse and Family Endowment Fund — which provides financial support to families of law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency services personnel who have died in the line of duty.
“It’s physically and mentally draining,” Friedly said. “It’s a tight stairwell and it gets pretty hot. Gear keeps heat out but it also keeps heat in. It’s a really neat deal. The fact that it has a beneficiary financially is great as well to go help other families out. Just doing it to support the people that lost their lives doing their job is pretty special.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.