Firefighters go virtual for the Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb

the Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb traditionally took place at Town Pavilion.

Gabe Bartholome

Firefighters across the country paid tribute to the lives lost in the 9/11 attack by participating in Kansas City’s 9/11 Memorial Stair event last week. The event involved climbing 110 stories of stairs in remembrance of the number of floors of the former World Trade Centers.

Kansas City Chief Fire Marshal James Walker was just one participant in this annual event. Walker was 26 years old and serving as a driver for his firefighting crew at the time of 9/11. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Walker and his team helped collect donations and deliver them to New York in 2002.

“The city was gripped in this feeling of community,” Walker said, recalling his experience in New York. “People would stop you in the street because we were wearing uniforms and just say, ‘Thank you,’ and we would tell them, ‘We’re not from New York. We’re from Kansas City,’ and they said, ‘We know you’re not from here and that’s why we’re thanking you.’”

This year, 343 firefighters participated in the stair climb event to honor the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on 9/11. 

Traditionally in Kansas City, the climb has taken place at the Town Pavilion. However, this year, coordinators shifted the event to a virtual Climb-on-Your-Own format due to COVID-19 safety concerns.

“We felt it was too big of a risk in a small area to have firefighters in stairwells, vaccinated or unvaccinated,” Dave Bova, the event director, said in an announcement on Kansas City’s Memorial Stair Climb website. “We encourage you to complete the climb and send us your videos and pictures so we may honor those on 9/11/21, the 20th anniversary.”

In the days following Sept. 11 of this year, firefighters took to social media to share their virtual experiences. Some climbed 110 flights of stairs at other buildings, while others substituted with stair climbing treadmills and 4-mile walks. Some even had family and friends join them.

“What it does is it puts a face to a tragic event,” Walker said, describing the stair climb event. “When you hear ‘343 firefighters died that day,’ it becomes a statistic. But when you go to a stair climb and you see the pictures of their faces and you know the personal stories of these people who you’re climbing for, it takes on a greater meaning.”

This weight of personal connection to 9/11’s tragedy is something that few in the coming generations will understand. Many people in Generation Z are the last generation to be alive for the historical event. UMKC junior Keeley Cronin shared her thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. 

“I was 11 months old for 9/11, so I learned about it as an example that bad things would happen to good people but that the human spirit is not easily destroyed,” Cronin said. “Now, I see 9/11 as a tragedy when tragedies mattered. It means that there was once a time where people cared if three thousand people died in a day.”

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