‘This is nothing compared to what they had to do’: Stair climb honors those lost in 9/11 attacks

First responders remember fallen firefighters

Humboldt Bay Fire spokesperson Amy Conlin climbs the steps of Founder’s Hall at Humboldt State University on Wednesday as part of a 9/11 remembrance stair climb organized by the Arcata Fire District. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standard)
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It was a hard climb up the steps, but local first responders said it was also humbling and an honor.

Dozens of first responders of every stripe, along with members of the community, remembered the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, by emulating the same stair climb first responders had to make that day. The participants ascended and descended the steps at Founder’s Hall at Humboldt State University 10 times to equal the roughly 2,000 steps up the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

“My whole intent was just to think about how it was for those guys going up, knowing that the towers were going to come down anyways,” said Luke Walker, a fire captain with the Arcata Fire District and one of the event organizers. “They just knew that they had a job to do and they did it.”

Walker and the Arcata Fire District were joined by members of the Arcata Police Department, Humboldt Bay Fire, university staff and students, and other agencies and community members.

APD police chief, Brian Ahearn, said it was important to take some time out on Sept. 11 and remember all of the people who lost their lives, including 23 police officers, 343 firefighters and 37 Port Authority of New York police officers.

“In addition to thousands of innocent civilians, public safety workers and anyone caught in the crossfire of 9/11,” Ahearn said. “And to this day, that day continues to take its toll, especially in the public safety community.”

Firefighters, law enforcement and others descend the stairs of Founder’s Hall at Humboldt State University on Wednesday as part of a 9/11 remembrance stair climb organized by the Arcata Fire District. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standard)

Since 9/11, 241 New York City police officers and 204 firefighters have died as a result of illnesses contracted from responding to the terrorist attack, according to widely reported statistics.

“So you can’t ever forget,” Ahearn said.

Amy Conlin, Humboldt Bay Fire spokesperson, was among those who were climbing up and down the stairs and said the experience was “humbling.”

“We’re doing it today in solidarity with FDNY and the other firefighters who showed up 18 years ago,” Conlin said, beginning to tear up. “It’s a physical toll. What you’re thinking of the whole time is people who made that journey and never made it out, so it’s just somber.”

Keith Altizer, APD sergeant, said he wasn’t able to do the stair climb last year, but was honored to be able to participate this year.

“Just what they went through — they were battling intense heat, smoke, unknown conditions,” Altizer said. “This is a controlled environment, this is nothing compared to what they had to do. It’s just humbling to be able to walk an inch in their shoes that day.”

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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