My First Stair Climb

I’m on shift today and just finished my workout for the evening. I have been hitting the stair stepper hard for the last 10 days to try to get myself ready for the upcoming stair climbs. I am climbing 110 stories for those who lost their lives on 9/11 in Nashville on September 9th, and also climbing again in Charlotte, NC, on October 13th. I like to consider myself in decent cardiovascular shape as I have tried to make physical fitness a priority, but over the passed several months I had let it slid down the list. With this career, we all need to be in tip-top shape. I do not ever want to be put in the situation where someone has to suffer from the consequences of me not being able to perform due to me being too lazy to hit the gym.

I’m not much of a writer, so for my first post I am going to insert a write-up I did following my first climb last year on the 10 year anniversary of 9/11/01. I also participated in a climb at FDIC in Indianapolis this year.

Here is my personal account of the event:
As I walked in the SunTrust building, I found a very long line of firefighters waiting to register and sign-in for the climb. The line wrapped throughout the lobby of the building with personnel waiting to give emergency contact information, obtain the required wrist bands, and to be given the ID badge with the fallen firefighters photo, name, and apparatus the fallen firefighter was assigned to that morning 10 years ago. I couldn’t help but to envision the lobby of the World Trade Center that morning, just before the ones who lost their lives would start the climb. The radio traffic, the different firefighters arriving for their assignments, and the ones who started their ascent up the towers all came to mind.

I was handed the ID badge of Firefighter Peter J. Carroll. He was riding Squad 1 the morning of September 11th, 2001. I also had an ID badge made a few weeks prior with Earl Morphew’s name and photo on it. This climb was not only to remember those 343 firefighters who were killed on 9/11/01, but also to encourage firefighter fitness throughout the profession. The memories are countless, but anyone who knew Earl was well aware of how devoted he was to being physically fit. I know that Earl would have made that trip to Richmond to climb with me, and there’s no doubt he was there with me.

We all attended a mandatory safety meeting at 0830hrs. During this meeting, we were told to leave our egos at the door and reminded this was not a race. One thing that was repeated numerous times throughout the day was “Remember why we are here.” As I listened to the briefing on where bathrooms and water stations were located throughout the building, I looked around the room at all the firefighters that were there. There were firefighters that were young and old, male and female, physically fit, and not so physically fit. Some stood there in tank tops, gym shorts, and running shoes; however, others stood ready wearing full turnout gear with air packs/tools. No matter what, they all knew why we were there. During the safety briefing, they told us that they still had ID badges that had not been taken due to there not being the full 343 climbing. To ensure that all fallen firefighters made it to the top, several firefighters were handed another ID badge to carry. This is when I was handed the ID badge of Michael J. Clarke, Ladder 2. I stood there just looking at the photographs for a few minutes, and wanted to know more about these guys. Were they married? Did they have kids? What were they like? What hobbies do they have? I knew that these guys would never be forgotten.
They started the climb by letting 8 firefighters started the ascent every minute. By the time I was up to the front to start the climb, several groups were already starting their second ascent. The part of the building that we climbed was 22 stories.  I climbed the 22 stories five times to equal 110 stories. All of us would climb up, and take an elevator down to the lobby. We would all walk passed friends and family that had gathered in the lobby cheering us on before starting another ascent. In the stairwells of the building, there weren’t a lot of conversations going on.  Everyone climbing provided words of encouragement for those who had their doubts about being able to complete it. Every time someone would be resting, all the firefighters climbing up would provide positive words to boost their confidence. I climbed in full turnout gear, and my shirt was soaked in sweat prior to reaching the top floor during the first ascent. Each trip up became harder, but I knew that I was just getting closer to the finishing.

As I finished my fifth trip up the steps, I was very proud to have completed my goal. They had a bell at the top, where family and friends stood watching for their firefighter to complete the 110 stories. The bell was rung by firefighters once they completed the 110 stories. It was an emotional moment as I rang the bell and announced each of their names. I completed the climb in a little over an hour’s time. I was able to make the climb without the fear that these guys had. I was able to make the climb without worrying if I would ever see my family again. I was able to make the climb without the air pack and all of the tools that they carried with them. I was able to make the climb because I was able to stop and rest to regain my breath. On 9/11/01, these guys were not able to make it to the top and they lost their lives saving others.  Ten years later, I helped these guys make it all 110 stories, but I think they helped me as well. I was not in the fire service 10 years ago, I was sitting in 9th grade English class at Chilhowie High School when the towers fell.  It was an honor to climb for each and every one of those men and women who lost their lives that day.”

I’m going to end with a video of Brian Brush talking about the 9/11 stair climbs and the partnership with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. I had the pleasure to climb with Brian at FDIC and I think this video sums up about anything I could say about why.