AUSTIN (KXAN) — It was a solemn lineup of some of Austin’s finest Sunday morning, firefighters carrying on a tradition to honor their counterparts who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

According to the Austin Fire Department, this annual “Memorial Stair Climb” is the nation’s longest running and first-of-its-kind event.

Austin Fire Lieutenant Jerry Cohen explained it started hours after the tragedy itself. “That very next morning, one of our training lieutenants down at the academy said, ‘hey, guys we’re gonna finish the climb,'” recalled Cohen. “Lets climb this tower the amount of stairs they couldn’t do.”

So every year, Austin firefighters climb the equivalent of about 108 floors — this Sunday, at the Pleasant Valley Drill Tower in east Austin at Krieg Fields.

They go up and down the stairs, in full gear, up to 80 pounds strapped to them.

“It’s long, it’s enduring, it’s hot, of course, this time of year, but it’s our way of tributing,” said Cohen.

The climb has been the same for 21 years, just the people participating have changed.

“We have two guys today that weren’t even born on 9/11 and that shows the success of our tribute,” Cohen said.

  • firefighters lining up
  • firefighters climbing stairs
  • 9/11 memorial wreath
  • Band entering Capitol Rotunda
  • Band performing in Capitol Rotunda
  • observers watching band play in Capitol

Later at the Texas State Capitol, the Emergency Services Pipes And Drums Association, made up of area first responders, performed to a captive crowd in the Capitol Rotunda — a fitting and powerful display remembering and honoring the lives lost on this day 21 years ago.