Eighteen years ago today, America and the world were forever changed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
Anyone over the age of 25 in all likelihood can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing as the news first broke that four commercial planes were hijacked in an attack planned by Osama bin Laden.
A total of 2,977 people were killed as planes struck the World Trade Centers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Among those killed were 345 New York City firefighters who died while attempting to save the lives of others.
Sunday marked the ninth anniversary of the Kansas City Memorial Stair Climb, an event to pay tribute to those firefighters who gave their lives in service to others. Hosted at the Town Pavilion in downtown Kansas City, 345 firefighters from across the United States dressed in full gear with air packs and climbed 110 flights of stairs as part of the event. Before starting the climb each participant touches a piece of steel from the World Trade Center as a tribute to the fallen.
“One has to stop and reflect about the events that occurred that day and what those guys did,” Pettis County Fire Protection District volunteer Matthew Gardner explained. “It was through their heroism and sacrifice that so many were saved that day.”
Gardner has been participating in the event for the last six years. Members of the PCFPD have taken part for seven years. Members of the Sedalia Fire Department also participated at the event and have for multiple years.
The sacrifice of those first responders on the scene on 9/11 is all the motivation needed to keep going and finish the climb, according to Gardner.
“We all know going into this event how tough and demanding it is especially wearing all that gear,” Gardner said. “It gets extremely hot so it is crucial to keep yourself hydrated. It's an emotional day for sure.”
According to Gardner, in Missouri, there are memorial stair climbs in Kansas City, Clayton, Springfield, Columbia and Jefferson City. Stair climbs are also hosted across the country. Gardner said he had the honor to climb in memory of Lt. Peter Martin of Rescue Company 2 in Brooklyn.
It was a desire to serve others that led Gardner to become a member of the Fire Protection District 19 years ago. He was a senior at Sacred Heart School at the time. One year later, Gardner realized he had made the right decision.
“I remember everything that happened that day (Sept. 11) like it was yesterday,” Gardner recalled. “That day for me began just like any other day. I was driving through town on my way to run some errands when the news broke over the radio.
“I turned around and headed for home and arrived in time to switch on the news,” he continued. “I watched as the second plane struck the south tower, and soon afterward news broke about the attack on the Pentagon. I knew in that moment that things would never be the same. The events of that day only strengthened my desire to serve others and to help make a difference in people's lives. I would hope that others would remember all of the good that we saw in the days following the attacks. We saw the best of humanity and we were united as a country.”