Firefighters share a deep bond. This bond doesn’t stop with their ladder or engine nor does it end at their city’s borders. Instead, their familial bond extends to all who wear the uniform. If there was any doubt about the feeling of family that is forged in fire time and again, look no further than their annual 9/11 stair climb.
343 members of the FDNY rushed to ground zero that day to answer their final call. Those who perished in the attacks did so doing something that would be physically taxing in the best of times. They climbed 110 flights of stairs in heavy gear. However, they did so amid chaos, flames, and debris. Most importantly, they did so with the certainty of death looming over them. Those firefighters and first responders took their final climb in hopes that they could trade their lives for several others. To them, it was a fair trade. That’s why they put on the uniform.
Each year, firefighters and other first responders across the nation gather to pay tribute to the 343 who fell that day. First responders from each area have their own way of doing things. However, three things remain the same across the board. First and foremost, the purpose of their climb is the focal point. Then, the length of the climb. Additionally, they all dress in full gear.
Variations on the Firefighters’ Memorial Climb
Some areas take the symbolism of the climb as far as possible. For instance, Aurora, Colorado-area firefighters really go the extra mile. They gather 343 members of various fire departments from the area. Then, they each receive a badge with the name and photo of one of FDNY’s fallen heroes, according to Colorado Public Radio. They take their steps in dedicated remembrance of those who fell. In Aurora, they add faces and names to the memory.
Lt. Justin Brown of the Aurora PD participated in the climb along with firefighters and other first responders this year. About it, he said, “It re-establishes that oath, it’s kinda like reestablishing your marriage vows, you know, every once in a while. It’s just a reminder, and a good yearly reminder, of why I chose this job.”
In Knoxville, Tennessee, they do things a little differently. Firefighters and first responders from East Tennessee gather at the foot of Knoxville’s Sun Sphere in full gear. They climb up and down the massive tower for an equivalent of 110 stories. While not as elaborate as the Aurora climb, it is no less poignant.
Captain Jeff Bagwell, Rural-Metro Fire Department’s public information officer, sees the importance of the event. He told Knox News, “…this event is not about us. It’s about remembering what happened 20 years ago. It’s about teaching our kids and young people what happened and why it happened and all the sacrifices that were made.”