TC Stair Climb

Pictured from last year’s event are, from left, The Colony Det. Kelli Hunt, Officer Kelly Nichols and Det. Chris Vaughn.

On Sept. 11, 2001, fire and police personnel across America experienced the acute loss of over 422 of their brothers and sisters in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Towers in New York City. Since 2011, first responders from around North Texas have memorialized them in the Dallas 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, joining other agencies in the U.S. and Paris, London, New Zealand and Australia.

On Sept. 9, 422 volunteers will climb Renaissance Tower, 1201 Elm St. in downtown Dallas. An opening ceremony will bring the climbers together for a group photo at 8 a.m., and traditional public safety tributes will be performed during a ceremony after the climb.

Two detectives and one police officer from The Colony Police Department will be among the symbolic climbers, carrying the name, picture and accountability tag of a firefighter or police officer who was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. Climbers will take 54 flights up Renaissance Tower then down the elevator before climbing again. Once they reach the top climbers place their accountability tag on a board, say their name out loud and ring a bell to signify that their person has reached the top. Local fallen public safety officers will be also be honored.

Choreographed around the events of Sept. 11, 2001, the climb incorporates symbolism in an intensely physical setting, according to a news release from Dallas Stair Climb. The event begins with an opening ceremony steeped in traditional fire and police memorial service elements. A moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. marks the time Flight 11 hit the North Tower. Immediately following, 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement, and nine EMS personnel begin their trek up the stairs – 110 floors – equivalent to the height of the former World Trade Center Twin Towers, the release states.

Kelly Nichols, a student resource officer at Lakeview and Griffin middle schools, along with detectives Chris Vaughn and Keli Hunt will be participating from The Colony.

“When you’re in this line of work, police and firefighters, you have a strong feeling of camaraderie and loyalty to them and their families,” Nichols said. “When I do things like this or go out and run, it’s something I do for someone who can’t do it. I feel like I’m honoring someone who can’t do this anymore.”

Nichols, Hunt and Vaughn have participated in the event in past years.

“It’s very humbling,” Nichols said. “Everyone is there to help each other. People there are supportive and make sure you have everything you need.”  

The firefighters will be in full bunker gear for the climb, about 70 pounds of additional weight.

“It’s going to be crowded and hot,” said Todd Dutcschke, a member of the Little Elm Fire Department who is participating for the first time. “But it’s definitely going to be motivating. You worry about how you’ll do, but the motivation level is so high that I don’t think it’ll be an issue.”

Police officers don’t have as much weight to carry. Still, Nichols said it will be challenging.

“It’s just one foot in front of the other,” Nichols said. “I’m not going to stop.”

The event is family-oriented and open to the public. There will be activities such as an obstacle course, trying on bunker gear, touring first responder vehicles and vendor areas. 

Fire and police agencies are raising funds in the lead-up to the event; visit dallasstairclimb.com to find out how to donate. This year’s climb will benefit Concerns of Police Survivors-Metroplex Chapter, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Texas Line of Duty Death Task Force and National EMS Memorial Service.

Chris Roark contributed to this story.

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