343 firefighters died on 9/11. And firefighters here in Denver were the first to honor them by hiking up 110 stories -- dressed in full gear. Now, there are 55 similar climbs all over the world involving almost 15,000 firefighters. Colorado Public Radio’s Ben Markus was at the climb yesterday and filed this report.
Reporter Ben Markus: It’s early morning Sunday in the basement of the Century Link building downtown. Hundreds of firefighters stand in silence listening to Amazing Grace played on the bag pipes. Firefighters from all over the state have come here to simulate climbing the stairwells of the World Trade Center. Since the Century Link building is only 55 stories, they’ll climb it twice. Matt Cokewell is a firefighter from Boulder
Cokewell: I feel like it’s the least I can do to pay my respect to what happened, and being here with 343 people in the basement really puts it into perspective.
Reporter: One of those 343 people is fireman Nick Marcazo from Greeley. He can’t think of a more fitting tribute.
Marcazo: This is what we do. I mean if there was a fire in this building we would be going up those stairs. And all the guys in New York died in those towers, it’s the best way to do it.
Marcazo, and every other firefighter today, will carry a picture around their neck of one firefighter who died on 9/11. But fellow Greeley fireman Randy Sparkman will carry two.
Sparkman: I climb in honor of Timmy and Tommy Haskel, the only two brothers killed in 9/11
Reporter: Sparkman has gotten to know the Haskel family because of these climbs. And he’s even visited them in New York City. Firefighters around him are getting ready to start, putting on up to 70 lbs of gear. He says there’s no trick to getting to the top.
Sparkman: Just staying with it, having the mental toughness to just keep going, knowing that those firefighters on 9/11 had to face that and then still know that they had work to do when they go to the top.
Reporter: Brenda Puccio and her family came here to deliver a photo of her fireman cousin who died on 9/11. She hands it to a Boulder firefighter before he starts the climb.
Puccio: This is my cousin Micky B. He’s one of the funniest guys you’d ever hang out with, great guy to have a beer with -- wish I still could. So thank you.
Reporter: The fire men and women begin the long climb, single file, up the narrow stairwells. Halfway up, Travis Hayden with North Metro Fire stops for a breather. Beyond the regular gear, Hayden is also carrying a rolled up fire hose on his back. Sweat glistens on his clean-shaved head. When asked how he gets through the climb, he points to the picture hanging around his neck.
Hayden: This guy right here, Brian Biltcher.
Hayden’s climbed for Biltcher before and he’s also developed a relationship with his family.
Hayden: Like his son was just 10 months old when he passed away, so I write back to his son every year, send him stuff, so that he knows that everybody always cares about his father.
Reporter: The climb ends on the roof where some of the fire fighters are sitting down exhausted, drinking bottled water. Like North Metro fireman Caleb Larson. It’s his birthday today.
Larson: Can’t think of a better way to spend my birthday.
This was his first time climbing on 9/11 and he says he’ll be back.
Larson: Definitely do it again next year.
He better sign up soon, this year more than 100 firefighters were on the wait list.