SEBRING — New York firefighters started climbing 110 flights of stairs on Sept. 11, 2001, to reach fires high up in the World Trade Center where planes had crashed.
They didn’t make it. The towers collapsed. Each year, however, firefighters and other emergency responders host “stair climb” events to commemorate their sacrifice and to raise funds for the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. Sebring will hold such a climb on Sept. 29.
Highlands County Fire Rescue Chief Marc Bashoor said this is the first even local stair climb. Sponsored by the Highlands Fire & EMS Foundation and hosted at Sebring International Raceway, it is open to all who want to participate — whether emergency responders or not — to symbolically complete the climb to the top of the WTC for firefighters who started the climb in 2001.
All proceeds will go to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), Bashoor said.
In the past, the NFFF worked to supply the needs for families of the 343 firefighters lost at the World Trade Center, as well as those who have died since then of 9/11 related illnesses.
Now, they also deal with programs to keep firefighters alive, such as making sure all firefighters have breathing gear to filter out noxious and poisonous fumes that afflicted those who worked in “the pile” at Ground Zero.
Of the 2,977 victims killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, with 343 being firefighters, New York City also lost:
• 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department.
• 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department.
• Eight emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services.
• One patrolman from the New York Fire Patrol.
Since then, Bashoor said, 200 or more have died from related illnesses.
“We have a Superman complex,” Bashoor said. “What 9/11 helped us realize is that even Superman has Kryptonite.”
As the years go by, the importance of remembering 9/11 grows: Many of the new firefighters hired now are 18 years old. They weren’t born or were only infants when it happened.
Bashoor hopes to get 343 participants, at least, to commemorate all 343 firefighters.
The first 343 people who register for this event will receive commemorative challenge coins and will wear a name card bearing the name and photograph of one of the firefighters.
The course will go up down and across the stairs and balconies of the pit structure/skyboxes at Sebring International Raceway, Bashoor said.
Those who cannot actually climb, due to bad knees or old age, can walk a 3K (1.86 mile) course instead.
Everyone who climbs will get a T-shirt, Bashoor said.
He expects some emergency responders, firefighters especially, will walk the course in full gear.
“I typically do it in uniform,” said Bashoor, who’s done stair climbs in four states — including Maryland where his department founded one — and in Washington, D.C.
Registration will start at 7 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 29, and after a brief program at 8:30 a.m., the climb will start at 8:46 a.m., the same time Flight 111 hit the north tower.
The climb will pause for several benchmarks: At 9:03 a.m. for the when Flight 175 hit the south tower, at 9:37 a.m. for when Flight 77 hit the Pentagon, at 9:59 a.m. for when the south tower collapsed, at 10:03 a.m. for when Flight 93 crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and at 10:28 a.m., when the north tower collapsed.
The event will be done by 11 a.m., but Bashoor invites participants to volunteer to help load kids into cars on Pit Row for the Porsche and BMW Owners Club (PBOC) Kids Racing for Life event.
It runs the same morning as the stair climb and starts as the stair climb ends. It will give rides on the track to children, many of whom have been ill with cancer, and to their siblings and family members.
For more details on the PBOC Kids Racing for Life event, visit pbocflorida.com.