DENVER — For months, six Scottsbluff firefighters have been training for a monumental event: climbing 110 stories of a Denver skyscraper.
However, except for the stories climbed, the firefighters' climb would only be symbolic compared to the climb 343 firefighters took on Sept. 11, 2001. The climb those 343 firefighters took would be their last, selflessly giving their lives to rescue people trapped in the World Trade Center after two planes struck the towers.
The six men — Capt. Justin Houstoun and firefighters Chad Hobbs, Chris Gabis, Tyrell Gill, Jesse Lauruhn and Andrew Kelley — began preparations for the stair climb months ago. The Denver Metro Firefighter’s 9/11 Memorial Climb is only open to 343 firefighters and typically, the event is filled within a couple of hours, Houstoun said. The event began in September 2005 with two fire departments joining together to climb the flights of stairs at Denver’s Transamerica building and has grown to firefighters from 58 departments and 15 states represented. One firefighter for every firefighter lost on 9/11.
Preparations included training for the climb. Houstoun, who has done the Denver stair climb once before and a similar stair climb at Red Rocks four times, said the firefighters trained on stair machines and at the Scottsbluff High School stadium, climbing the stairs in full bunker gear and with air packs, for months before the event. On the day of the climb, the firefighters climb the Transamerica building twice as it only has 55 stories.
“It’s a lot of work,” Houstoun said about the climb. Each firefighter completes, making it to the top. “One of the things that they strongly advise, is accountability. You are put into teams — all six of us were on one team — and you never leave anyone behind. If one falls behind, we all stay together. Everyone did really well. It is definitely challenging. When you get to the top that second time, it’s rewarding. It is a really cool moment.”
The event starts with ceremonies that include a U.S. Navy honor guard presenting the colors, the flags, playing of audio from firefighters during the rescues at the World Trade Center, prayers and speeches from organizers and a fire department chaplain, and a performance from bagpipers. Houstoun describes “it as a special moment.”
The event serves as a fundraiser for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which provides ongoing and future support to the families of firefighters killed on 9/11 and others that have been diagnosed with lung diseases from responding, as well as family members of the FDNY firefighters.
“I enjoy doing (the stair climb) with other firefighters as a way to pay our tribute to the firefighters lost on 9/11,” Houstoun said. “It is our way to honor them, to remember them for the sacrifice they gave.”
For more about the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, visit http://denverstairclimb.com/.