Denver 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb [UPDATED]

Well, the climb is done. 10 days have gone by with no planning or daily mention of things to get done for an upcoming climb, and a chance has been given to reflect on what I have been part of. First, the Denver climb….then a little more than that.

Each year – seven of them now – there seems to be this massive workload of event planning and organizing that takes place in the immediate run-up to the climb. A pile of logistics, information, and organization all culminate in the hours prior to the climb actually happening. There are times in those days that it gets to the point that I actually look forward to the time period that comes just after the climb is done where there is nothing to do but wait to start it all over again. But then the morning of the 11th comes around, and the firefighters filter into the loading dock, and the tribute begins….and it’s all immediately worth while. I have the unique opportunity to help organize the climb with a few other folks, including Dave, Scott, Sean, and Mark; and it has to be one of the most rewarding things that happen each year.

For those new to the blog this past year, the climb is the first of it’s kind in the country, and we gather 343 firefighters – in full gear – and climb 110 floors each September 11 in honor of the 343 FDNY members that died (the 110 stories is the same height as the World Trade Center stood). We do it in a 55 story building located in downtown Denver, and we climb it twice. Each climber is randomly given a photo of one of the 343 firefighters, and they climb in that firefighter’s memory. We ask that they in turn reach out to the family of that firefighter and let them know that we haven’t forgotten. You can hear a little more about it from a Colorado Public Radio news story, my wrap on 2010 and 2009. This year’s event filled up in 66 minutes.

Since I am involved in the planning and execution of the event, several of us that help out actually climb early that morning. We get down there long before sunrise, and start our rigorous 110 story climb just after 6am. There are lots of moments void from talking, but hardly silent. It takes more than an hour to do, and is one of the hardest physical challenges that I face each year…..and we don’t have a burning building above us or people being shuffled down the stairwell past us. By the time that we finish our climb, the 343 participants are starting to arrive and the rest of the day’s events swing into high gear. During the event, I serve in the position of Lobby Control – an accountability spot – and have a great chance to be able to speak to each climber several times.

The most rewarding part of the entire experience is the stories that we hear from families of FDNY members, or from participants who have reached out to families and made connections. To know that the families know that people don’t forget, and to know that firefighters from all over (this year 9 different states were at the climb) are constantly remembering, is what it is all about.

To the part that was referred to as ‘a little more than that’ at the beginning of the post. A long story short, last year we partnered up with the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to develop a program that would allow individual cities across the country host a climb similar to the one that we have going on here. The money that is raised from that effort goes towards the Foundation and their efforts to support the FDNY members and families that are now dealing with the 9/11 related sicknesses, diseases, and cancers. I am able to work with a few amazing people from around the country – Victor, Billy, Jenni, Josh, Shawn, Scott, and Brian – and I feel like this is going to be a long-term tradition. And this year? More than 55 different climbs, happening in 4 different countries, with about 15,000 firefighters climbing with the same purpose. In the coming weeks, we should know the full impact of the event, and I know that it’s huge…..It’s awesome to have that many firefighters (and in a few climbs, civilians) training, getting in better shape, honoring, remembering, and supporting.

[UPDATE] For some reason, I forgot to include this – even the best forget things sometimes. A great friend, fellow organizer, and District Chief up in Denver not only climbed for his late FDNY friend, but also with Liam. He asked for a photo, put it in his helmet, and carried Liam the full 110 stories. I actually got choked up at the thought, and again (this seems to be happening on a extremely frequent basis) was humbled by friendship and love. Photo is below.

Here are some photos from this year’s climb….


  1. I am so proud of you and all you do to make Sept 11th a most memorable day each year. Your personal commitment has made such a huge impact on so many people, and it ripples larger and larger as the momentum you started builds. Thanks for inspiring others to remember, too. loveyoumeanit…

  2. This is the first year that I have been aware of the program. The dedication is almost beyond words! I shall remember that in the future. I come up from the lower level shower with pajamas, robe and slippers…counting the 17 steps to the upper level. Multiply that by 6.5 times and add full gear. How many pounds are added to your weight? I’m glad that I retired from the volunteer service after 20 1/2 years!!!!!

  3. good morning, Oren… as always, your posts are so beautifully written…… The Gettysburg Fire Department, under the direction of Deputy Chief Hurshel Shank, organized its first ever stair climb on 9/11/11 to benefit the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation. We don’t have anything like a high rise in Gettysburg, and Hurshel calculated the climb to be held at the football stadium. My son in law, Ron McNew, a FF with the Fairfax Co FD and I walked, but he really did the stairs and completed the climb. His “gear” was carrying my granddaughters, 8 & 6, front and back or on his shoulders, and it was a sight to behold…. Shout out to Hurshel Shank for his hurculean effort to organize this. And, thanks to you, Oren, for continuing to share and foster the pride of firefighting… 🙂 Hi and hugs to your parents…. think of you all more than you know….


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