With rain misting outside and dark clouds looming overhead, bell tolls ripped through the silence Saturday morning as climbers read off the names of firefighters who died Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 120 people gathered for the second annual State Fire Marshal's 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Jefferson Building to commemorate the 343 firefighters who died during 9/11 when two hijacked planes struck the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
With many wearing full firefighter gear, participants took 10 trips to the top of the 13-story Jefferson Building, climbing 2,600 stairs. This is the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center towers, media coordinator Mike O'Connell said.
As photos of the 343 fallen firefighters circled the stairwells, lanyards with their names and faces hung from climbers' necks. As participants finished the stair climb, they rang the bell for each name they wore around their necks.
"There's 343 firefighters who sacrificed their lives back in (2001), so this is the least I can do in remembrance to those guys," said Charlie Peel, of the Southeastern Randolph Fire Protection District. "I've got four tags — four firefighters — that I remembered and I walked for them today."
Each time they completed a flight of stairs and embarked on the next round, they tapped a glass case that contained a flag and a piece from one of the twin towers.
Before and throughout the stair climb, event organizers rang a silver bell and called for moments of silence. The moments of silence were for those who died when two planes struck the twin towers, a third plane hit the Pentagon building and a fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Prior to the stair climb, climbers gathered in the parking garage near the building to hold a ceremony in honor of the firefighters.
The event raises money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, which supports firefighters' survivors. As of Saturday morning, the event raised nearly $14,000.
Missouri Fire Marshal Tim Bean said the event was "bittersweet," but he was glad to take part.
"It's very bittersweet for what we represent here, the memory of the fallen there on 9/11," he said. "That's the bitter part, but the sweet part is being able to recognize them and raise some funds to support the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. It's very important that we don't forget and we take this time to reflect on the sacrifice of the many that lost their life that day."
Firefighters who worked on 9/11 are also dying from the hazardous conditions they experienced while working that day, Bean added. This stair climb commemorates those individuals and their families.
Firefighters were not the only people to participate Saturday as many family members and friends climbed the stairs to show their respect. Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin did the climb last year unexpectedly and decided to register this year.
The thing that stood out the most to her was the encouragement from other climbers, she said.
"Last year, I was just here to welcome but ended up doing most of the climb because when I would get finished with a flight of stairs, someone would say, 'Don't give up. Keep doing it,'" she recalled. "So, I found myself climbing and climbing, and then I found myself encouraging others to keep climbing. The whole message is to keep encouraging those who are doing this work for us — the firefighters and first responders. We want to tell them, 'Keep climbing.'"