| Lieutenant Emmit Hoyl • Denver |
Can you imagine the noise that 343 stampeding fire fighters in steel-toed bunker boots make as they storm up the steps of a metal staircase measuring 55 stories tall? Well if you can’t, the only way to find out is by participating in the annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in Downtown Denver at the Century Link building.
This event was the first of its kind when, seven years ago, several members of the Denver Fire Department decided to commemorate their fallen comrades by climbing a symbolic 110 stories of stairs, the equivalent height of the World Trade Center, in the same gear that their fallen brothers wore while evacuating victims from the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, enthusiasm for the event has become so large that they capped the participation to a symbolic amount equal to that of the amount of firefighters who died when the towers collapsed in New York City. Originally that number stood at 343, since then, the number has grown to 480 because of firefighters succumbing to illnesses associated with working in the toxic environment at Ground Zero.
The first year I participated, my group showed up early and proceeded to the basement of the building. We watched as firefighters from all over the State of Colorado and the nation poured in. This took place for over an hour until the whole floor was swollen with mostly testosterone. What struck me while listening to the orator and looking around was the sheer quantity of people standing in the room.
It was humbling to stop and think that all of us were a representation of the firefighters who died that one fateful day. A long moment of silence was given at 8:28 a.m., the Mountain Standard Time when the second tower collapsed. It was only broken by the haunting melody of bagpipes, which served as our rally cry to start climbing.
Broken into groups, we firefighters started to muster and wait our turn to get into the stairwell. At the entrance, there stood a long table filled with small pictures of faces. Everyone selected a photo of a fallen firefighter to carry with them through the climb. It served as a stark reminder of those who lost their lives helping others.
At this event, everyone wears his or her bunker gear. Some of the more fit participants chose to wear an additional 45 pounds of 50-foot, 2.5-inch hose rolled together and slung over the back of their air cylinders. Others carried tools and the occasional American flag hanging on their backs.
One by one we ascended up the stairs at a walking pace to the 55th floor. After a quick elevator ride back down, we geared up, donned our facemasks and went on air for the second ascent. At the top of our second round we were allowed out onto the parapet wall overlooking all of Denver. It is quite a reward to feel the fresh breeze and take in the view having come out of a cramped sweaty stairwell, a feeling that all 343 firefighters who died that day did not have the opportunity to experience.
Every climb has been a transcending experience for me. Not only from the euphoria I get having worked so hard and climbed so many steps, but also from the experience I felt from being one of the 343 brothers and sisters attending the event. It’s humbling to think that all these folks took time away from their work, with the purpose of commemorating and remembering our fallen firefighters. I can’t wait for next year to do it all over again!