Duty. Dedication. Sacrifice.
Those words describe the firefighters who worked to save Americans after the terrorist attacks on New York City, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.
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Duty. Dedication. Sacrifice.
Remembrance. Honor. Reflection.
Those words describe the more than 2,000 first responders and others who participated in the 15th annual Colorado 9/11 Memorial Climb at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sept. 11.
Stair climb organizer Shawn Duncan of West Metro Fire Rescue told the participants they didn’t have to complete all nine laps around the amphitheater that represent the 101 flights of stairs firefighters climbed on 9/11 in the Twin Towers in New York City to rescue people trapped in the buildings before they collapsed.
“This is not a race,” Duncan told them. “It’s OK to pause, to sit and reflect. This event is more about getting together and remembering.”
West Metro Fire Chief Don Lombardi told first responders in attendance to be diligent and take pride in the work they do.
“It is imperative that you are ready like the 343 firefighters (of FDNY, the New York City Fire Department) who lost their lives,” Lombardi said.
He asked everyone to remember what the country was like after 9/11 when everyone banded together and became one.
“We can honor (those who lost their lives) by having more grace with each other and coming together as a nation,” Lombardi said. “We are strong when we are one.”
Members of the Warren Tech Fire Academy class, who weren’t alive on Sept. 11, 2001, decided to participate. Warren Tech students come from high schools across Jeffco, and these high school juniors and seniors said they were compelled to participate to honor the firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11.
“I feel we have to be here,” Landon Hines, a Green Mountain High School student, said. “For us to walk (in the stair climb) doesn’t begin to honor their sacrifice.”
Brendan Brownlee, a student at Ralston Valley High School, added: “We are honoring heroes.”
Kara Cooper, a retired member of Genesee Fire, was a pilot on 9/11 and served on the fire department for 15 years, retiring in 2018. She participates in the stair climb to honor people who try to save others, not just on 9/11. She hoped to make all nine laps around the amphitheater, adding, laughing, that she’s never tried it in bunker gear.
Mike Amdur with Foothills Fire was too young to remember the terrorist attacks.
However, he added, “9/11 is a large part of the culture of the fire service. Taking part is the best way for me to communicate with my fellow brothers and sisters in the fire service. It’s a show of respect.”
Rock Canyon High School Fire Academy students in Highlands Ranch were excited to get started, and they pointed to one of their instructors, Joe Sapia, who they recently learned was a Long Island, New York, firefighter on 9/11, and he arrived at the scene just before the North Tower collapsed.
Sapia explained that his duties at Ground Zero were rescue and recovery.
“I always tell everybody that I’m not a hero,” he said.
Now, he said, his duty is to spread awareness about the responders who have fallen ill as a result of their work on 9/11, and the subsequent rescue operations and cleanup.
“9/11 never goes away,” he said.
Now, as a fire instructor for the high school program, he says his job is to have students experience what it’s really like to be a firefighter.
He doesn’t tell his students about his experiences on 9/11.
“I don’t want them to treat me differently,” Sapia said.
Battalion Chief Matt Gold with Fairmount Fire said he tries to do something each year to commemorate 9/11, and this was his first time at the Red Rocks stair climb.
“It’s important,” he said. “It’s a way for us to remember all the lives that were lost, and it’s special for us as firefighting brothers and sisters to come together.”
Duncan reminded participants that the FDNY showed up on 9/11, knowing that day would be horrific and that some of them would not return home.
“There were 29 minutes between when the first tower and the second tower fell,” Duncan said. “They saved 20,000 lives, a lot of them knowing they would not make it out of the Twin Towers. They knew their firefighter brothers were lost, and they still continued to climb those stairs.”
For Evergreen Fire/Rescue Assistant Chief Stacee Martin, participating in a remembrance every year is important. She said of the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb: "It never gets easier or old."
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