AUSTIN (KXAN) — The day following the 9/11 terroristic attacks, local firefighters at Austin’s Fire Department gathered together to honor those who lost their lives by climbing hundreds of steps.
“It started spontaneously like, ‘Hey, we’re going to get in full gear and finish the climb,'” said Lt. Jerry Cohen, a firefighter at Austin’s Fire Station 8 in northwest Austin. They went up and down the stairs roughly the height of the World Trade Center.
It’s a climb hundreds of rescuers were unable to complete.
“To remember that when people were going up there the day they were going into certain death, and we had the luxury to know that we were going to go home that evening,” said Cohen.
Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11, 2001. Many firefighters, police officers and emergency personnel all put their lives on the line in hopes of saving others.
“People have died since then in direct relation to, and we’re still going on with some stuff almost 20 years later,” he said. “Those wounds are still not 100 percent healed.”
Now, every year, firefighters gather from far and wide to climb thousands of steps to honor the memory of those who died on that die. Men and women who participate wear all their firefighting gear and those with Fire Station 8 add their air packs and a hose bundle to carry.
“It’s our little part of never forgetting,” said Cohen.
Today, firefighters, including Cohen, will climb up and down AFD’s Pleasant Valley Drill Tower starting at 9:30 a.m. while also wearing several dog tags — each one representing a fallen firefighter from 9/11.
“Even though we’re 1,500 miles away, it still felt close to home,” he said.
For Cohen, what started as a way to prove himself physically has changed over time, especially after a recent trip to New York City to visit the One World Trade Center and tour Ground Zero.
“To see all those artifacts from that upfront and in person is going to make this climb different,” said Cohen.
The firefighters will climb in silence.
AFD is also going to have a memorial service at 7:30 a.m. at the AFD Tower on Cesar Chavez.
Around the same time, members of Bear Creek Performance Training are hosting their annual climb on Mount Bonnell. Rain or shine, they’re going up and down the stairs 40 times as a tribute to first responders.
This year the group raised money to donate to the nonprofit OATH which helps improve the quality of life for veterans.