Fourteen members of the Sedalia Fire Department and Pettis County Fire District will honor the fallen firefighters who died on Sept. 11, 2001, on Sunday at the annual Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.
2016 marks the first year the event has fallen on Sept. 11, as it is usually hosted the Sunday before the exact date. Firefighters from many fire stations will climb 110 stories worth of stairs at the Town Pavilion in Kansas City representing the 343 New York Fire Department firefighters who died in the tragic terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
“For me, it’s a very moving experience. I remember exactly where I was at and what I was doing the day of the attacks,” Matthew Gardner said, who has been with PCFD for 16 years and will complete his third climb Sunday. “I hadn’t been with the department very long, but after witnessing what happened that day, it just moved me to the point that I knew this was what I wanted to do, being a firefighter. It became more meaningful.
“I think you could talk to just about any firefighter anywhere and after the events of that day, that brotherhood really became a lot stronger. When the stair climbs came about, it was just an awesome way to pay tribute to the brave firefighters that went into that situation, some of them knowing full well we’re not going to come out of this alive, but we have to do what we can to save as many as we can.”
For Chad Damlo, who has been with PCFD for six years and will be climbing for the fourth time, he has a unique connection to Sept. 11.
“I want to honor the firefighters that lost their lives on 9/11. Mine is kind of two-fold — my oldest son was born that day,” he said. “As a firefighter and him being born that day, it has a couple different meanings for us that we get to say there was good things that happened that day as well.”
The participants all complete the climb in full gear and air tanks, which can add anywhere between 70 to 100 pounds. Many from Sedalia and Pettis County train in the weeks and months beforehand, hitting the gym for extra cardio exercise or running stairs in full gear on the training tower at SFD headquarters.
Because the Town Pavilion only has 38 stories, teams will make the trip up the stairs multiple times to hit 110 stories, taking an elevator ride in between each trip. The firefighters said those trips in the elevator help motivate them, as they see the encouraging faces of loved ones when the doors open.
“Our families go with us, our wives, our kids, they’re our biggest cheerleaders,” Gardner said. “After we come down from one trip up, they’re there with bottled water, Gatorade, cooling towels. They’re just a real inspiration and support to us. That makes things a lot easier for us.”
Each climber is assigned one of the 343 firefighters to climb in their honor. Many participants request to honor the same person each year. Damlo just this week made contact with the son of his firefighter, James Corrian. It turns out Brendan Corrian is now a NYFD firefighter himself.
“Him and I have been communicating all week,” Damlo said. “He’s sending me some shirts for my family to wear up there. I’m going to be sending him some stuff back from Pettis County to show we’re there for him.”
Josh Nelson, who has been with SFD for six years and will be taking his sixth climb, said he’s tried contacting the family of his firefighter, who he has climbed for for six years, with no luck, but has researched him online. He is taking a trip Oct. 15 to New York and is planning to visit his firefighter’s station.
The first wave of teams begin their climb at 8:56 a.m., when the first plane hit the Twin Towers in 2001. 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.
“Depending on when you go (as the teams are staggered), you’re hearing people ring the bell you ring at the end. Along the stairwells you see (pictures of) every firefighter who passed and it’s constant motivation,” said Devlin Tippett, who has been with PCFD for almost three years and will be climbing for the third year. “… Each time you do your set you hear people yelling at you to keep going. By the time you do the last stairs it almost brings you to tears to do it.”
This year the PCFD will be represented by Chief Mike Harding, Capt. Mark Stevenson, Lt. Matt Beason, Lt. Matthew Gardner, Lt. Tom Dugan, Lt. Chad Damlo, Firefighter Devlin Tippett, Firefighter Bryan Stevenson, Firefighter Rachel Winfrey and Firefighter John McLaughlin. The SFD will be represented by Josh Nelson, Kyle Gilmore, Mitch Friedly and Nathaniel Nevels.
Nelson said SFD tried to sign up more people, but the event typically runs out of spots in about two minutes. Those who have climbed before get early registration.
“It’s just a great experience. It’s really neat to be able to do it,” Nelson said. “Every year I say I’ll back out so someone else can have the experience, but each year I do it. It’s hard to back out.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.