This year, the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation has helped set up firefighter stair climbs across the country as a tribute to the 343 FDNY bravest who died in 9/11 and the one held at Firehouse Expo on Thursday may have been the most poignant to date.
More than 320 participants wearing lanyards bearing photos of each of the fallen heroes -- some of them represented more than one firefighter -- climbed the 20 flights of steps in the Hilton hotel in downtown Baltimore five times to represent the 110 floors of the World Trade Center.
Onlookers in the hotel -- which included both Expo attendees and passersby who had just learned of the event -- cheered on each group that took on the challenge. The hours-long event evoked emotions of pride and sadness in those who watched, and even brought some to tears as they remembered the tragic day.
Before the participants ascended the stairs, each rang a bell in honor of the firefighter they represented.
Some wore T-shirts and shorts while other donned full turnout gear during their trek.
Baltimore Firefighters Drew Doiron and Paul Gattens wore their full gear from their helmets down to their boots.
"It's just the challenge of it more than anything," Gattens said. "The guys did it on Sept. 11 so I feel I should do it today."
In a departure from the norm, Firefighters Jaymie Birney and Matt Frazier from Montgomery County Fire and Rescue in Maryland decided to wear kilts.
Birney, who is part of the department's pipes and drums band, talked Frazier into joining him after he thought of the idea.
"Turnout gear is a lot heavier," Birney responded when asked why he decided to do it.
"I'm going to run 110 stories for guys who are not going to ever run those stairs again. It's just something I feel I want to do."
While there were many walk-ups shortly before the stair climb began, Firefighter Daniel Chewning and his colleagues from the Kinston Fire Department in North Carolina planned to take part in the event months before it was set to occur.
"I was sitting at work one day and we saw this in Firehouse Magazine. It really kind of struck us because we were all impacted (by 9/11) in one way or another," he said. "It's just a big inspiration to be able to come out here and climb in the memory of the brothers we lost that day."