Great Bend Fire Department firefighter Nick Maddy climbed for Harvey Harrell.
Firefighter Lucas McNally climbed for Vincint Kane.
Capt. Luke McCormick climbed for Jeffrey Palazzo.
Sadly, Harrell, Kane and Palazzo aren’t around to hear about the efforts. You see, the three were New York City firemen who perished when they responded to the World Trade Center on that fateful Sept. 11 morning in 2001.
The local first responders took part Sunday in the third-annual 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb held in Kansas City, Mo. They were part of 343 firefighters from eight states who ran up and down the stairs of the 34-floor Town Pavilion building until they had climbed 110 flights of stairs.
There were 343 firefighters killed when the WTC towers collapsed following the terrorist attack. There were 110 floors in the tallest of the two towers.
“The fire service is built on the foundation of family,” McNally said. “Our family takes care of your family.”
On occasion, he said, they put their lives up as collateral for another. “This is what those firefighters did that day. They did what they could to save the most people they could.”
The local crew joined with three others – one from Newton, one from Hays and one from Stafford County – to take part as a team. Each climbed the 110 flights in full fire-fighting bunker gear and a helmet, and wearing an air tank, 80 extra pounds in all.
Each climber carried a photograph and biographical sketch of the firefighter who was lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We chose to climb in their honor because it fills a void in our hearts,” McNally said. “The fire service is a brotherhood and we take it personally when we lose one of our own. We climb because they climbed.”
But, they guys just didn’t wake up one morning and decide to climb over 1,000 steps. Maddy said they started getting ready in June.
“We went to the High Rise (Great Bend Housing Authority building), the high school stadium and our training tower” to run steps, Maddy said. “There was a lot of training and a lot of preparation.”
This marked the second year McNally and Maddy have taken part.
This year, one of their team members started to succumb to the heat. Bunkers are designed to keep the heat of a raging fire out, but they also trap it inside.
They took several breaks to help their comrade along so he could finish. “You don’t leave a man behind,” McNally said.
Although the event is not a race, they completed their assault in two hours. Last year, their time was one hour and 25 minutes.
However, the climb is about more than steps. There is also a ceremony.
This year, Anthony Manuelle, a New York firefighter who was at Ground Zero and lost colleagues in the disaster, spoke. “He made it personnal,” Maddy said.
The Kansas City event was one of several across the country that took place prior to or on the anniversary of the attack.
The first stair climb held to support the mission of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation was held on Sept. 11, 2005, when five Colorado firefighters convened at a high-rise building in downtown Denver to climb 110 flights of stairs in memory of their FDNY brothers who were killed in the terrorist attacks of 9-11. The following year, 12 firefighters participated, representing four fire departments from the metro Denver area. Each subsequent years, attendance grew, until it was capped at 343 participants in 2008.
Since its beginning, the Denver 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb has evolved into a much anticipated annual events, and generated interest from individuals across the country who hoped to adapt the format and host an event in their cities. In 2010, the original Denver team partnered with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to create a template that would enable coordinator to successfully replicate a 9-11 Memorial Stair Climb anywhere in the United States.
The United States Congress created the NFFF to lead a nationwide effort to remember America’s fallen firefighters. Since 1992, the tax-exempt, nonprofit Foundation has developed and expanded programs to honor our fallen fire heroes and assist their families and coworkers.
Last year, 83 firefighters died in the line of duty nationwide. So far this year, the death toll is 79.
As a side note, McNally said the new GBFD truck has a sticker on the back that warns drivers to stay back 343 feet. That is also a tribute to the 343 who died on 9-11.