The Charlotte Fire Fighters’ 9-11 Memorial stair climb is modified, enabling our law enforcement and EMS brothers and sisters to also participate in numbers representative of those lost from each profession.The StairClimb is not a race; but an opportunity to honor and remember the 343 FDNY, 60 law enforcement and 10 EMS members who selflessly gave their lives at the World Trade Center (WTC) that fateful September day so that others could live. During the Charlotte event, each climber carried a photograph and biographical sketch of a first responder who was lost on September 11. Participants, many of whom were dressed in full turnout gear carrying air packs and hoses, climbed 110 stories — equal to the height of the Twin WTC Towers. They climbed the 50-story Duke Energy Center in uptown Charlotte; climbing the 50 stories twice, then an additional 10 stories, finishing the climb on the 10th floor, commonly known as the “Green Roof.” September 12, 2015 marked Charlotte’s fifth annual climb.
How It Began
The host and organizer of the climb is the Charlotte Firefighters Association (CFFA-Charlotte’s IAFF Local 660). The climb began as an idea amongst several local firefighters, and it has blossomed into an annual community event which includes family-oriented activities on event day and a firefighter skills training day the day before the climb. Proceeds from the event go to the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF) and the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. These proceeds include entry fees paid by climbers, proceeds from the sale of t-shirts and challenge coins, and the sponsorship of floors. Many vendors, public safety agencies, departments and even fire department work shifts sponsor climbing floors throughout the building.
According to the NFFF, the Charlotte stair climb is the only stair climb event in the country that has a corporate partner. From the event’s inception, Wells Fargo has been a major supporter; providing facilities, manpower and financial assistance. Wells Fargo provides facilities not only for the climb, but also for the training day, t-shirt sales and storage of event materials as well. In addition to a financial donation each year to the NFFF on behalf of the stair climb, Wells Fargo also participates by providing planning assistance and staffing for the event. Each year Wells Fargo has donated $10,000 to NFFF. This year Wells Fargo doubled the annual donation to $20,000 — a perfect example of why the Charlotte climb is considered one of the top stair climb events in the country.
This year, the climb organizers arranged for the Firefighter Steven Coakley Foundation to display their ‘Flags of Remembrance’ at Romare Bearden Park in Charlotte, just a few blocks north of the Duke Energy Center. The annual display was in memory of all of those lost on September 11. American flags were displayed for each person lost for a total of 2,997 flags. Also on display were numerous items and artifacts, as well as a World Trade Center steel beam. Firefighter Steven Coakley was an FDNY firefighter assigned to Engine 217 (Brooklyn). Coakley had just finished his work shift on the morning of September 11 and was leaving when the World Trade Center attacks occurred. Coakley ran back to the station and caught the fire engine as it was leaving. Coakley was last seen alive, helping people evacuate the South Tower.
CFFA 660 hosted this year’s second annual training day. Fittingly, it fell on September 11, 2015. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the training day went to the NFFF. Over 100 firefighters participated in the training day, attending four classroom sessions and three hands-on sessions. Training day topics included: Rapid Intervention Operations, Engine Company Operations, Leadership Training and Building Operational Excellence. Classes were taught by well-respected instructors from throughout the country including: Charlotte, North Carolina Fire Department; Cleveland, Ohio Fire Department; Palo Alto, California Fire Department; Columbia South Carolina Fire Department; Asheville North Carolina Fire Department and CalFire.
This Year’s Event
This year’s event was another sell-out with climbing teams assigned and filled well before event weekend. Over 550 climbers, representing various public safety agencies from surrounding states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas and from as far away as California) participated. On the day of the event, climbers were broken down into approximately 126 teams in total. Actual FDNY members participated and started the climb with climbing teams that were released into the stairwell in climbing “waves.” As each climber entered the stairwell, they rang a bell and announced the hero they were climbing for, as a bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” in the stairwell. While climbers ascended the stairwell, they heard actual FDNY and NYPD radio broadcasts from the morning of September 11, 2001 being played through speakers. This provided motivation, as well as sadness, as the climbers reflected back to the sacrifices made that day. Many of the climbers completed the climb in full turnout gear with air packs; equipment which easily added an additional 60 pounds of weight. From the outside courtyard, on large TV screens, loved ones and observers watched live video footage from inside the stairwell and cheered for the climbers.
I am proud of the fact that the Huntersville Fire Department has supported the event with members climbing each year since its inception. This year we were excited to sponsor three floors (one for each fire station in the Ville). Pictured is a group from Huntersville Fire that climbed previously.