Heaving up one flight of stairs after the next, firefighters hoisted their bodies and their gear up the equivalent of 110 stories in downtown Kansas City on Sunday in tribute to their New York brethren who braved the climb up the World Trade Centers 15 years earlier.
“I’ll never forget those guys who died,” said a tired and sweat-soaked Seth Buckley, a Shawnee firefighter, halfway through a trudge carrying a hose that would slow the heartiest backpacker. “Never.”
The Kansas City 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb marks the fifth year firefighters climbed the stairwell of the Town Pavilion. More than 300 men and women made the scramble up the hot and humid stairwells. Each carried a photo of one of the firefighters killed in rescue efforts after two airliners plowed into New York City’s iconic towers, a terror attack that defined an era and gave new appreciation for first responders.
“It’s about the brotherhood and sisterhood of firefighters,” said Kevin Joles, a public information officer for the group.
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When registration for the event opened earlier this year, the 343 slots — one each for those firefighters killed in New York on Sept. 11, 2001 — were grabbed in four minutes.
“People,” Joles said, “want to take part in this memorial.”
To mimic the task of scaling 110 stories, the firefighters ascended 33 flights of the claustrophobic Town Pavilion stairwell three times and then a few flights more to match the height of the fallen towers. (The climb takes almost two hours.) Some hauled axes. Some toted hoses. Most carried a respirator. They were all soaked in perspiration early into the chore.
Most of the firefighters who signed up came from Missouri and Kansas, but others traveled from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa.
Similar tributes take place around the country. It’s a tradition that began in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2003, when an Albuquerque, N.M., Fire Department lieutenant scaled a two-story building 55 times wearing body armor and a helmet and toting a rifle. That sparked a stateside climb in Albuquerque the next year. The year after that, it spread to Denver, and a memorial stair climb took hold in Kansas City.
“A lot of people died that day,” said Capt. Kenny Wieberg of the Sunrise Beach Fire Department at Lake Ozark, Mo. “We don’t forget what they did.”