Carter County first responders climb 110 flights of stairs in memory of those killed on 9/11
On September 11, 2001 hundreds of New York first responders were dispatched to the World Trade Center, where one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the nation’s history had just occurred.
Around 343 firefighters, 70 police officers and nine emergency medical technicians climbed the Twin Towers, standing at 110 stories each, but never made it to the top. A few years later, first responders began honoring those who sacrificed their lives that day by organizing memorial stair climbs in several major cities.
Due to COVID-19, things were a little different this year. Rather than traveling to Dallas or Oklahoma City, several law enforcement officers from around Carter County and firefighters with the Ardmore Fire Department made the climb locally.
On the morning of Sept. 11, six officers from the Ardmore Police Department, two officers from the Lone Grove Police Department and a deputy from the Carter County Sheriff’s Office climbed 40 laps around the bleachers at the Ardmore High School stadium.
APD Sgt. Chris Mata said the 40 laps were equivalent to the 110 flights of the Twin Towers. Last year, Mata made the climb in Dallas in honor of New York Port Authority Police Officer John Levi, who had worked an overtime shift on Sept. 11 and immediately ran to the second tower to help rescue people when the attacks occurred.
Though the climb was not the same this year, Mata said it was still important to keep the tradition alive and to honor those who died.
“We try to keep the memory alive— especially for these first responders because their families are still around,” Mata said. “They were husbands, wives, daughters, parents— you just try to walk in remembrance of them and hopefully that gives them peace of mind that they didn’t die in vain, we still remember them.”
The Ardmore Fire Department began their climb the next morning at a training tower behind fire station number one. The firefighters had to climb the tower 22 times, up and down, to equal the 110 flights of the Twin Towers.
Seven firefighters, including Shane Woolly, made the climb. Woolly has been participating in the Oklahoma City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb since it began in 2012. About two years in, Woolly was asked to represent New York Fire Department Capt. David Wooley and has been climbing in honor of him ever since.
“I remember exactly where I was when the attacks happened. I didn’t plan on being a firefighter at that time and I kind of fell into it,” Woolly said. “Just because I remember exactly where I was and how I felt, it feels good to represent them and never forget what happened that day.”
No matter the location, the climb puts into perspective what the first responders who were on duty on 9/11 had to go through, Mata said. Many who had to climb up the Twin Towers were in full gear, which weighs around 20 to 25 pounds for police officers and 55 to 60 pounds for firefighters.
“You can imagine these guys going in there with the heat in the building due to the plane and the amount of people trying to get out, trying to do all they can before the towers collapsed,” Mata said. “You kind of just put yourself in that moment in some ways and try to picture what it would be like.”
Just the act of climbing 110 flights itself is extremely draining, Woolly said. “It’s very physical. Just the climbing gets to a point where you’re using your arms to drag yourself up the stairs sometimes, but when you get to that end it’s a big relief. It’s a real good feeling,” Woolly said.
The emotional aspect of the climb is sometimes what gives them the drive to finish it, Mata said. Many people can remember exactly where they were when news of the attacks was broadcast across the nation, but for some, Sept. 11 has become a history lesson.
The climb is a reminder of the impact Sept. 11 had on the nation and of the sacrifices that several first responders made that day, Mata said.
“Some kids weren’t born yet so they don’t understand the significance of how major an impact it was,” Mata said. “I think by doing this— sharing stories, sharing some of the heroes that died that day and some of the heroic things that they did, kind of just puts into perspective the tragedy that happened that day.”