Why we climb: A call to remember and honor

One retired FDNY firefighter is taking his mission to Never Forget to new heights, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with a banner that honors 9/11's fallen firefighters

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, have you ever paused to wonder why we climb in remembrance of September 11, 2001? Why do we ascend a staircase enclosed within a building, conquer the stairs at a stadium, or embark on a symbolic ascent? It's not merely because the challenge exists; no, it's deeper than that. We climb to remember and honor.

First responders are the unsung heroes of our world. They are the guardians of our nation, the pillars of our communities, and the protectors within our homes. In the quiet corners of our and their homes lie the heartbeats of memories and the bonds left unspoken.

On that fateful day, September 11, 2001, our nation grieved the loss of thousands of our fellow citizens. The locations marred by those tragic events will forever be etched in the minds of those who lived through those calamitous days. However, newer generations may not feel the sting as acutely as we do.

A retired FDNY firefighter scaled Mount Kilimanjaro with a banner that read
A retired FDNY firefighter scaled Mount Kilimanjaro with a banner that read "2023 atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, for my brothers, 9/11 Never Forget."

So, why do we climb? Each of us carries our personal journey and reasons, and climbing allows us to forge our unique paths.

Let me share a story with you, a story of a 75-year-old retired FDNY firefighter. About a year ago, he embarked on an extraordinary challenge: He decided to scale Mount Kilimanjaro. You might wonder, what more could one person do? Well, he did more. Fate had a delay in store for him. His luggage, carrying a banner that read "2023 atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, for my brothers, 9/11 Never Forget," arrived late. It did not make it before the hike to the summit began. However, a climber, employed by the company handling the climb, personally delivered that banner to him on the mountain.

Why did he bring that banner? It was his way of declaring to everyone, known and unknown, that "we will never forget" what happened over 22 years ago. Just as people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, came together to support and heal our communities following the terror attacks, he took his climb to a different level, showing us all what's possible.

Recently, the FDNY announced that the number of members lost due to World Trade Center (WTC) illnesses had reached 343. On September 11, 2001, the FDNY lost 343 members. Sadly, the FDNY continues to bear the weight of those losses, and a new generation feels the ongoing pain.

This retired firefighter may be just one person, but he represents the countless climbers across our nation who ascend for countless reasons and memories, giving back in every step. The lives lost on September 11, 2001, have now touched five generations of families. With each continued loss due to WTC illness, the possibility of spanning five generations still exists. The difference now is that family and friends witness the pain and suffering. That's where we come in – through communal efforts like the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s stair climbs, we help others heal.

Extending a helping hand to our first responders, those who guide us through our darkest hours, is what we strive to do. Retired firefighters, like so many others, carry the message from one generation to the next. I understand that not everyone can embark on a transcontinental journey to climb a mountain, but you can join others at a stair climb event or embark on your own virtual climb.

Together, let's ensure that “we never forget,” that we honor, and that we continue to climb for a cause greater than ourselves.

Learn how you can participate in a stair climb at the NFFF 2023 National 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb site.

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