BALTIMORE, Md. -- The stairs at the Hilton were crowded Thursday afternoon for more than two hours, and it wasn't because the elevators were out of service.
Those trudging up the stairs were upbeat as they climbing for a reason -- in memory of the 343 FDNY firefighters who died on Sept. 11.
The second annual National Fallen Firefighters Foundation's Stair Climb attracted a variety of people in addition to firefighters who are attending Firehouse Expo.
Hilton employees and guests applauded the climbers on the various floors, encouraging them to keep going.
A number of children joined their responder parents in the event. Julie Laboy, 10, part of the last team to start, stretched while waiting. "I think it's for a good cause," she said.
Nearby, her father, Ivan Laboy, a firefighter in Jackson, NJ, also was getting ready for the trek. "We will not forget them."
A trio of firefighters from Durham, NC, came to Baltimore for only one reason – to climb the stairs in memory of their fallen brothers. Stephen Whitt, Touche Howard and Willie Hall's flight landed at 8 a.m., and at 4 p.m., they were scheduled to be in the air headed south.
"We're very into this, that's why," Whitt said as they started their ascent.
Another trio wore different uniforms, but were quick to point out that they're all from firefighter families.
Alex Young and Jacob Zimmerman are in the Coast Guard, while Emmalee is a civilian in the same service. But, on Thursday they were part of their extended fire department family.
Emmalee admitted she got quite a few glances as the ID tags of 13 firefighters dangled from her shirt and shorts. "No one else was picking them up. I didn't want to leave anyone behind," she explained.
Her husband and Young each had 10.
"We were motivated by the people on the various levels," Zimmerman said.
Anne Arundel County Deputy Fire Chief Ron Strobel and his wife Jane and Capt. Matt Tobia were sweaty following their climb, but their enthusiasm was intact.
It was Tobia's fourth climb, and he said it's such a small effort for such a great cause.
"There's a lot of comradarie at these, and a great audience. Except for responders, I think the memories of 9/11 sacrifices are fading. But, we won't let that happen."
Caden Skau, 3, finished the climb shirtless. He and his brother Jason, 7, joined their father, Clinton, Conn. Firefighter Jeff Skau.
Jeff said the boys, who also had ID tags dangling from their shorts, wanted to walk with him, and he welcomed it.
While Caden walked the majority of the time, he got tired so his dad carried him for a bit.
Money raised during the climb assists the NFFF's work with FDNY families.