Stair climb creates ‘connection to what happened’

Local firefighters participate in fundraiser that mimics rescue efforts on 9/11

INDIANAPOLIS — He carried a stranger’s name on a little card as he climbed.

Trekking higher and higher with every minute that passed, Chris Myer held the card gently in his hand, recalling the name on it with every step.

Lt. Charles Garbarini, New York City Fire Department. A life lost but not forgotten.

Several Hancock County firefighters, including Myers, recently participated in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, a charity event to benefit the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

During the fundraiser, firefighters retrace the steps of the 343 of their fellow first-responders who died during the terrorist attack in New York City on 9/11. Often wearing full firefighting gear, they climb 110 stories — representing the 110 stories of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers — just as New York City rescuers did that fateful day.

Some 400 people participated in the event in Indianapolis on Friday, weaving their way through Lucas Oil Stadium. Together, they collected nearly $50,000 to aid the foundation with providing assistance — from college scholarships to counseling services — to the families of fallen firefighters, particularly those who died on 9/11.

Myers, a firefighter with the Greenfield Fire Territory, participated in the climb for the first time this year after hearing several fellow firefighters talk about how rewarding the experience had been for them in the past.

He saw the event as an opportunity to pay respect to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The first 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was held by a group of firefighters in Denver in 2009. Since then, the program has crisscrossed the country with dozens hosted each year, raking in thousands of dollars with each event.

Money collected during the events is split between two primary causes, said Ron Siarnicki, the foundation’s executive director.

Half the funding is given to families of fallen firefighters across the country in the form of special programs, college scholarships and various financial aid, Siarnicki said. It is also used to cover the cost of adding names to the National Fallen Firefighters monument and maintaining those already featured there.

The remainder of the money is given directly to the firefighters in New York City, Siarnicki said. The money covers counseling and medical care for 9/11-related injuries or conditions, including cancer brought on by the dust and debris so many inhaled in the agonizing weeks-long search for survivors.

Providing support to those who responded to the World Trade Centers on the day of the attack, as well as the friends and families of victims and survivors, remains one of the most important missions the foundation supports, even all these years later, he said.

The climbs can be an emotional experience for firefighters and organizers alike, officials said. The event is a recreation of a day that still weighs heavy on the minds of many Americans.

But seeing the crowds who turn out to support the foundation’s mission puts a sense of hope in the air, Siarnicki said.

“Our commitment is to the families who are left behind,” he said. “It’s all about family.”

Jeremy Polston, a volunteer firefighter with the Wilkinson Fire Department, was eager to participate in the stair climb in honor of not only New York City firefighters but all men and women who had ever worn turnout gear.

In addition to climbing for those who fell on 9/11, he climbed in memory of his own grandfather — the man he said inspired him to become a firefighter.

Events like the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb are a testament to the dedication firefighters have to their work and each other, Polston said. A desire to serve their community and a keenness to their fellow firefighters, near and far, is often what keeps them pushing forward — no matter how grueling the challenge ahead.

“It’s hard to describe the feeling (of togetherness) to those who aren’t in this field,” he said. “You have firefighters from all over the globe at this event, just trying to have some connection to what happened that day.”

An ongoing mission

The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation accepts donations year-round to support the families of first-responders killed in the line of duty, particularly those rescuers who searched for survivors on 9/11.

To contribute to the cause, visit firehero.org/donate.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.