The bell sounded just after the reading of the name and assignment of the FDNY member around each of the climber’s necks. We were the 14th team to start climbing. As we slowly moved closer to the bell, we continued to hear names and the echoing of the bell sounding afterwards. I took my place next to the bell and read off the names of the FDNY members around my neck. Today, the new names I carried were Firefighter Salvatore Calabro, Lieutenant Michael Quilty, and Captain Vincent Brunton. (Read the Intro to this post HERE) (One of the names I carried was for The Fire Critic and another for The Iron Firemen. Also around my neck were ID tags of all of those who I have climbed for in the past. Just after ringing the bell, I glanced up at the building that we were about to take on.
The Duke Energy Center is 50 stories high and the climb consisted of us climbing 110 floors in memory of those killed on 09/11/01. Team integrity is a crucial part of this climb. The recent climbs I have done have been much smaller buildings than this one. The Richmond building was 22 stories high (You can read my account of the climb HERE), and the Nashville building was 28 stories (You can read my post about it HERE). All seven of our team members were different ages, different weights, and at different levels of cardiovascular shape. The walls of the stairs were blank, but names and pictures flashed through my mind as we climbed. We immediately exchanged words of encouragement as we climbed step after step. It was physically demanding as I remembered the last, and some of our team members were experiencing the climb for the first time. Everyone stayed together throughout the first 50 floors. As we started getting closer to the top of the building, I heard a familiar echoing in the stairwell. It was the radio traffic from 9/11 that I have listened to multiple times before. It was an emotional touch that the Charlotte Firefighters had added to this year’s climb.
Sweat dripped off of my brow, my calves ached with pain, and my shoulders were exhausted. Nothing was going to stop us from starting up the second time. As rang the bell again to begin our second ascent, we were met by the members of FDNY Engine 217 standing in the entrance of the stairwell. I quickly reached in to my turnout coat and removed one of our challenge coins. I shook the hand of Battalion Chief Frank Poulin and thanked him for being there. He then glanced down at the coin that I had handed him during the handshake. (The coins were produced by NM Coin LLC. Check them out for custom challenge coins, lapel pins, decals, apparatus replicas, etc.)
My boot lifted off the ground and I placed it back on the first step as we continued our climb. (My boots were provided to me by the National Firefighter’s Endowment during a monthly Officer’s Club giveaway.) I felt the physical exhaustion in my body the second trip up the stairs more than the first. As we were climbing, we came across a sign that kept us focused. The sign, pictured here, tells about the crews that had made it to the 78 floor prior to the South Tower collapsing. We pushed on, knowing we were past half way complete. We made contact with each step until we reached the top once again.
The final ten floors we climbed without resting. The stairwell was more crowded than earlier, but the words of encouragement never stopped. You could hear “Good job Brother” or “Almost there Brother” throughout the stairwell as brothers of the fire service continued to keep each other focused. As we reached the 10th floor, we were handed more fluids to re-hydrant our bodies with. We remained in our sweat drenched turnouts and walked outside onto a sky lobby where our group photo was taken. After a short elevator ride to the ground level, we were greeted by our families and friends who had gathered to support us during our climb. Many of us took a few more photos before slowly removing our gear. It was official…another 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was in the books!
The brothers from FDNY E-217 were still around talking to firefighters from throughout the nation that had gathered to participate. We slowly worked our way over towards the other three guys and presented them with an NM Coin LLC challenge coin as well. During our conversation with the guys, we listened more then we spoke. The guys told us about their knowledge of each of the names around our neck. They referenced the location of the firehouses, the shifts, and the fallen. On 9/11/01, FDNY Engine 217 lost four brothers:
Firefighter Steven Coakley, 36 years old
Firefighter Philip Hayes- Retired, 67 years old
Firefighter Neil Leavy, 34 years old
Lieutenant Kenneth Phelan, 41 years old
It was a great event, and I recommend that if you haven’t participated in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb for you to go to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation’s website HERE and sign-up for one. The majority of the climbs are usually held around the 9/11 anniversary, but they are also held at numerous conventions and conferences throughout the year. Train, Prepare, and Remember. You may think you can’t complete it, but that isn’t a reason not to try. You need to make a difference in your life and experience a climb.
Thanks for RIDE BACKWARDS for their amazing workout apparel that I wore during the 5K and climb. Thanks to NM-Coin LLC for producing amazing challenge coins for us to hand out to brothers and sisters that also climbed.