Walking in their boots: First responders bring 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb to Love County

Sierra Rains
Falconhead firefighter Collin Mckinney and a deputy with the Love County Sheriff's Office stop for a photo while climbing the bleachers at the Marietta High School stadium. Mckinney was climbing in honor of a firefighter who passed away while responding to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Thomas Scholes was on one of the first firetrucks to be dispatched to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. None of the first responders on that truck would return home to their families after that day. 

The September 11 attacks resulted in nearly 3,000 civilian fatalities and is remembered as one of the deadliest incidents for firefighters and law enforcement officers in the history of the United States. 

Nearly 19 years later, Scholes and the 343 firefighters and 61 police officers who sacrificed their lives that day are still being honored by 9/11 Memorial Climbs organized in major cities throughout the nation. 

Falconhead firefighter Collin Mckinney was supposed to represent Scholes in the Oklahoma City 9/11 Memorial Climb this year. However, due to COVID-19, the event was made virtual, with first responders holding their own stair climbs between Sept. 1 and Sept. 12. 

“They turned it into a virtual event so we took advantage of it and just did it with all of Love County instead of just me,” Mckinney said. 

Love County first responders climb 110 flights of stairs at the Marietta High School stadium, symbolizing the number of floors first responders climbed on 9/11.

On the evening of Sept. 6, nearly 50 first responders and family members from Love County met at the Marietta High School stadium to walk at least seven laps of all the stairs in the bleachers, symbolizing the 110 flights of stairs the first responders had to climb on 9/11. 

Love County Assistant Emergency Management Director David Bond and his wife, who is a Marietta firefighter, helped put the stair climb together after McKinney came to them wondering how they would be able to hold the event locally with so few tall buildings. 

“We decided we were just going to put it out there — if anyone wanted to come out and participate they could,” Bond said. “We thought we’d get maybe half a dozen people and then we were really surprised when close to 50 people showed up.”

Members of Love County law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, dispatch and emergency management all came out to walk in honor of those who gave their lives. Many wore their full gear, which Bond said can weigh anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds for police officers and 50 to 60 pounds for firefighters. 

Love County firefighters climb the bleachers at the Marietta High School stadium on Sunday in honor of the first responders who gave their lives on 9/11.

Those added pounds make the already difficult task that much more straining. “That commitment speaks volumes,” Bond said. While the first responders and their families made the climb, the radio traffic and dispatch calls during 9/11 were played over the stadium’s speakers. 

“It was very humbling to hear all of those people on the radio, knowing everyone we were hearing— besides the dispatcher— was not going to make it home that day,” Mckinney said. “It was very humbling to know that I was doing something to honor them— that all of Love County was doing something to honor them.”

Mckinney was surrounded by his fellow firefighters that he goes on call with and his entire family, including his six-year-old son. His son climbed all 110 flights of stairs, telling his mother “Those guys didn’t give up, so I can’t either”. 

All the while, Mckinney said he kept Thomas Scholes in his mind— someone he said he felt he could look up to. “It’s a way to remember them and the ultimate sacrifice that they made to try to save others that they had never met and had no idea who they were, they went in and did everything that they could to try and save them,” Mckinney said. 

Assistant Love County Emergency Management Director David Bond and his wife stop for a picture during the Love County 9/11 Memorial Climb on Sunday.

As the years pass by and younger generations of people who were not alive when the 9/11 attacks occurred grow up, Bond said he thinks it is important to remind people of the lessons history can teach us and the sacrifices many made on that day. 

“It’s just a sobering reminder that firefighters and cops, this is what they’re called to do and you never know when one day you’re going to have to make the ultimate sacrifice,” Bond said. “You don’t want to forget their sacrifice. I think a lot of those guys probably knew that that was a one way trip that they were making." 

Bond said he was blown away by how many people came out and how well-received the local event was. Many have asked him to hold the memorial stair climb again and as long as there is space to do it, Bond said this may become an annual tradition in Love County. 

“These firefighters and cops we have down here, they’re small town Love County, and everybody’s their family and friends and they don’t hesitate, they just jump right in— that’s why I enjoy working with them,” Bond said. 

A Marietta firefighter and Love County law enforcement officer climb side by side during the Love County 9/11 Memorial Climb on Sunday.