By ALLEN MOODY

Highlands Sun Editor

SEBRING — While the events of 9/11 had an impact on the lives of all Americans, perhaps no group was impacted greater than the firefighter fraternity, which saw its ranks shrink by 343 in a single day. That was the number of Fire Department of New York firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice that day.

Determined not to let their sacrifices be forgotten, five Denver firefighters climbed 110 flights of stairs to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11 in 2005, marking the first stair climb to support the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. The following year 12 firefighters participated in the Memorial Stair Climb.

Since then, stair climbs have become a way to honor those 343 individuals and occur all over the country. On Sunday, Highlands County Fire Rescue Chief Marc Bashoor brought the stair climb to Sebring International Raceway for the inaugural Highlands County National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Stair Climb and Walk.

“I’m honored to be a part of the inaugural event in Highlands County,” Bashoor said.

Many of those who participated in the event were firefighters, while there were others who just wanted to pay tribute to those who lost their lives. Participants could either climb the equivalent of the 110 flights of stairs of the World Trace Center or walk a 3K — to correspond with the three points the planes hit.

Bashoor told the participants it didn’t really matter if they were able to complete the six stair rotations, which equaled the 110 flights of stairs, or the 3K walk.

“It’s no shame if you don’t complete all six rotations,” Bashoor said. “It’s no shame if you walk away after one step. Your attendance here today is what’s important.”

Each participant received a card with the name and photo of one of the 343 FDNY firefighters and Bashoor said they had the opportunity to symbolically complete the firefighter’s heroic journey. When participants had finished, they were asked to ring a bell once and say their firefighter’s name out loud.

Bashoor was hopeful the participants would learn a bit about the brave firefighters who lost their lives.

“I encourage you to research your firefighter and get to know them,” he told the participants. “Every one of them has a story.”

Bashoor participated in the event and said he was climbing for Chief Peter J. Ganci Jr., who left behind a wife and three children. His two sons have both become firefighters in what has become a common theme in New York.

Last week 301 people graduated from the FDNY Academy and 13 of them were children of firefighters who died on 9/11. Six were children of firefighters who died from 9/11-related illnesses.

The Highlands County National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Stair Climb and Walk was sponsored by the Highlands Fire & EMS Foundation and began at 8:46 a.m., which was the time Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s north tower.

Other significant events were marked with an announcement over the loudspeakers, such as at 9:03 a.m., when Flight 175 hit the south tower; 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was struck by flight 77; 9:59 a.m., when the south tower collapsed; 10:03 a.m., when Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and 10:28 a.m. to correspond to the collapse of the north tower.

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