August 24, 2017
Where were you when the world stopped turning, that September day? Nearly every adult can answer this “where were you” question. This year will mark the 16th year since the 9/11 attacks, meaning that nearly half of all U.S. high school students were born after 9/11/01.
To never forget that fateful event in our country’s history, 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs are held around the United States to honor the 343 fallen firefighters from 9/11. The first stair climb began in 2005. The event has evolved and expanded over the years, but the same core principles of the stair climb remains.
2005: First 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb
In 2005, five firefighters from the Denver area, Oren Bersagel-Briese, Scott Eckels, Dave McGrail, Sean Roeper, and Andy Singer, climbed 33 stories at a local Denver building on the first Saturday of every month. The group originally climbed together because it was a great training exercise and it was always fun for them. During their climb on Saturday, September 3, they realized that September 11 was near and decided to climb in honor of their fallen brothers from 9/11. On Sunday, September 11, the group decided to climb again, this time 110 stories – the height of the fallen Twin Towers. Upon completion of that climb, the group reflected on how moving of an experience it was to climb 110 stories, and they knew that they would all do it again the following year.
Grass Roots Build Up
In 2006, the group of five firefighters turned into 12. After sharing flyers and spreading the word to local fire departments, over 250 firefighters participated in the 2007 climb. Due to building capacity limitations, the event founders knew that they had to put a cap on the number of climbers that could participate. 343 was the logical choice, as that’s how many firefighters gave the ultimate sacrifice on 9/11. In 2008, the 4th annual stair climb maxed out at 343 participants. The Denver 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, the first 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in the nation, continues to sell out within hours every year.
2009: Colorado Hosts the Second Stair Climb, General Public is Invited
As interest in the event increased and the Denver 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb quickly sold out, Shawn Duncan and Brian Brush started their own stair climb and opened it up to the public on September 11, 2009. In the first year, over 500 people completed the Colorado 9/11 Stair Climb at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Every year since its inception, the Red Rocks climb continues to attract more climbers and raise more money than the last. Their 2016 climb attracted over 3,500 attendees and raised over $100,000 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
2010: First Stair Climb is Hosted Outside the State of Colorado
In Nashville, Tennessee, Josh and Jessica Smith heard about the Denver stair climbs in the news. As a firefighter himself, Josh could not think of a better way to better honor the fallen 343 firefighters and support the NFFF and FDNY Counseling Unit. Smith reached out to Bersagel-Briese, to see if the Denver group would mind if he would start his own stair climb in Nashville. With the help of the Denver group, Smith successfully coordinated the first Nashville 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on September 11, 2010, which was the first 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb hosted outside the state of Colorado.
The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation
As word continued to spread about the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climbs, more people from around the country wanted to start their own stair climbs in their home cities, but no one knew what it took to host a climb. In 2010, Oren Bersagel-Briese from the Denver Stair Climb, Shawn Duncan from the Colorado Stair Climb, Josh Smith from the Nashville Stair Climb, and representatives from the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF) met to discuss a plan for the stair climb program.
This was a beneficial meeting, as each group brought their own unique abilities and experiences. The Denver Stair Climb was an established firefighter-only climb, the Colorado Stair Climb had high attendance numbers and open to the public, the Nashville Stair Climb was a brand-new event, and the NFFF had the ability to take stair climbs to the national level. By the end of their meeting, a template was created, providing guidelines for any event coordinator to successfully run a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb anywhere in the country.
The NFFF utilizes the proceeds raised from stair climbs to provide resources to the survivors of fallen fire heroes and to work within the fire service community to reduce firefighter deaths.
Core Principles of a Stair Climb
Although each stair climb has its different qualities and participants come and go, the core principals always remain the same.
During the climb, there’s a feeling of solemnness. When you climb the stairs, you’re hearing the constant footsteps made by yourself and others around you. It makes you think about what it would have been like climbing the stairs of the World Trade Center on 9/11. It reminds you of the commitment and dedication of those firefighters that had no idea what they were going up against. As time passes and we get further away from the tragic event, it’s becoming increasingly important to remember this time in our nation’s history.
It’s a humbling experience to see a large group of firefighters and community members come together every year, all committed to remembering those who gave their lives on 9/11. Everyone motivates each other to continue climbing. There’s always smiles at the end of the climb.
3. Physical Training
Climbing 110 stories isn’t easy for everyone. Those who previously couldn’t finish the climb are often motivated to build their endurance for the next year. It’s an accomplishment for climbers to come back the next year with the ability to complete the climb for one of the fallen FDNY firefighters.