Not many people disagree with the axiom, “It takes a special person to be a firefighter.” As residents are fleeing smoke-filled homes, or employees are flooding out of compromised offices or factories, firefighters and other first responders are the ones defying all logic by running toward the problem.
On 9/11, our country was smacked upside the head with what the consequences of their bravery can be. In saving a countless number of lives that day, many of them lost their own. How many municipal clerks, street department employees, (magazine editors), wastewater engineers, code enforcement officers and mayors unlock their office doors in the morning knowing that the day’s challenges could well be mortal?
To perform their great service, firefighters put aside that always-present possibility. But what’s even more amazing is the fact that thousands of firefighters who survived that horrific day, and those who joined their ranks afterward, volunteer to tax their bodies and spirits by stair climbs that honor their comrades’ sacrifice.
In 2005, five Denver-area firefighters felt moved to honor the fallen NYFD firefighters by climbing 110 flights of stairs that represented the 110 floors of each World Trade Center tower. The sentiment behind the idea resounded in stations across the country, and the idea morphed into dozens of 9-11 memorial stair climbs that now happen yearly all over the country.
It’s a brotherhood thing, I’m told. Firefighters in Iowa, Oregon and Kentucky understand the commitment to community and the inherent dangers of the job that fire professionals in Missouri, West Virginia and Maryland face. And they want to honor the tragedy that befell the NYFD. But part of me still doesn’t understand why it’s them, and not the rest of us, making their muscles scream in gratitude and appreciation for what the NYFD did that day and what fire station No. X down the street, is doing this afternoon, tomorrow and next month.
At FDIC in April, I watched dozens of men and women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, labor up the concrete steps of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and asked myself why the people who rescue us during some of our most terrified moments are the same ones sacrificing themselves to honor the martyrs of 9/11. Shouldn’t the people for whom these individuals put their lives on the line be sweating alongside them, hoisting ourselves up as many concrete steps and landings as our dedication and will can carry us?
Dave Statter of the National Fallen Firefighters Association, which has organized the growing memorial stair climb effort since 2011, said some of the 9-11 Memorial Stair Climbs that happen each year are open to non-firefighters. All participants collect pledges, then select a name or names from among the firefighters who perished on 9/11 and commence climbing.
I don’t know if I could make it up 110 flights. I’m pretty out of shape. But it would certainly be an honor to be allowed to try. It would be a profound way to pay my respects that way to the men and women, both the fallen and the survivors, who come running when we most need them.
For a schedule of upcoming 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb events, visit www.9-11stairclimb.com/