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By Ronda Scholting

As a hazy sun rose over the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a small crowd of people, dressed in blue t-shirts, grew to more than 2,100. All were there to take part in the ninth annual Colorado 9/11 Stair Climb, to remember the first responders who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.  And, as the sun battled with clouds overhead, each pair of feet would take nearly 2,000 steps – the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center, a total of nine laps around the amphitheater. The climbers came from 16 states, representing 60 fire agencies from Colorado and across the country.

“It’s amazing to see the support we have each year for this event,” said Shawn Duncan, a lieutenant with West Metro Fire Rescue and co-coordinator of the climb. “We had people here just after 6 am, waiting in line to register.”

Duncan and Cody McGinnis, an Aurora firefighter, are the co-coordinators of the event and rely on an army of volunteers and sponsors to turn their idea into a reality each year.

“We wanted to do something to both remember the 343 firefighters who died trying to save lives that day, and to help the families they left behind,” said McGinnis.

The climb benefits the FDNY Counseling Services Unit and the programs provided by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to support their families. So far, more than $2 million has been raised through stair climb events around the country. The Red Rocks event is the largest of its kind – this year participants raised nearly $70,000.

And while most climbers wear t-shirts and shorts during the moderately strenuous event, in the crowd, you can see firefighters, dressed completely in “bunker” gear – heavy coats and pants – with helmets on their heads. Some even are “on air” – with face masks, connected to air tanks, breathing compressed air as they climb. And, as the tanks begin to run dry, you can hear the alarms sound – warning the wearer that air and time are running out.

“As a firefighter, we’re trained for the worst scenarios,” said Duncan. “Even so, it’s hard to imagine what they saw that day as they climbed the stairs of the World Trade Center. They had to know it was likely they were not going to make it out. That’s why we do this – to remember their sacrifice.”

Registration for next year’s Colorado 9/11 Stair Climb opens early next summer. Watch www.911stairclimb.com for details.

Ronda Scholting is the Communications/Media Relations Specialist for West Metro Fire Rescue; contact her at rscholting@westmetrofire.org or 303-941-8317.