Almost 20 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, two planes flew into the twin towers at the World Trade Center in New York City, where more than 2,000 people lost their lives.
Among those individuals were first responders who climbed the stairs of the burning buildings in hopes of rescuing those in need before the towers collapsed.
Last Saturday, Fulton first responders participated in the fifth annual Columbia Memorial Stair Climb at the Fifth and Walnut parking structure. The climb was created to honor not only those who had fallen during the attacks, but also every first responder who has lost their life trying to save another's.
"I've done some research on the stair climb and what they went through on 9/11, and I believe that it's very important to uphold that tradition and memorialize the day, the event," Fulton Fire Engineer Shawn Pettigrew said. "The day of the climb, the coordinator, guest speaker and the local chief give speeches — it's very impactful, very sober, very real. It puts our job and the event into perspective."
Saturday's climb was similar to the ascent those individuals had to endure while climbing to the top of the World Trade Center. Each climber went up the nine-story parking garage 11 times to make it equivalent to the 110 stories of the towers. They were dressed in their uniform with all their equipment.
Pettigrew decided to climb with a two-and-a-half section of hose with the names of the 343 first responder who had fallen. But each person who made the climb Saturday carried a lanyard with the name and photo of a first responder who had passed. And once they finished the 110 stories, they rang a bell and announced the individual's name whom they carried with them.
"After we complete our 110 flights, we come down and sound the bell for their last call and then announce who we climbed for," Fulton Fire Chief Kevin Coffelt said. "It always brings tears to my eyes."
Coffelt and Pettigrew have climbed nine times in several different locations, but they've participated in Columbia's almost every year. They've climbed in Springfield as well as in Jefferson City for the Missouri Fire Marshal Stair Climb. And they have held onto every lanyard, every individual they have climbed for over the years.
The two also participate in the Tunnel to Towers 5k Run and Walk in Jefferson City to honor Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who lost his life Sept. 11 after strapping on his gear and running through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center.
The Fulton Fire Department has lost two individuals in the line of duty — Chief Grant Duncan and Captain Alan Leake. Though they are remembered every day, Coffelt and Pettigew climb for them and many others. The two fallen Fulton firefighters are memorialized with several others who have fallen at the Firefighters Memorial in Kingdom City.
"I participate to honor the ones that gave their life on 9/11 and also I do it to honor the firefighters that die every day in the line of duty," Coffelt said.
The proceeds collected from Columbia's Memorial Stair Climb go to two different foundations that support front-line first responders and their families: Safety Net of Missouri and Firefighter Cancer Support Network.
For more information on Columbia's Memorial Stair Climb, visit www.columbiastairclimb.com. To find out how to participate in the annual Tunnel to Towers 5k in Jefferson City, visit www.facebook.com/t2tjeffcity.