Every year around the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, hundreds of volunteers choose to climb 110 flights of stairs to honor the heroes who sacrificed their lives.
“It’s one of those things you have to do because you can’t ever forget what happened in the past,” said Palomar Airport Firefighter Ryan Grophe.
The San Diego 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was held at the Bayfront Hilton Hotel, and started at 8:46 a.m. on Saturday. That start time is the exact moment the first plane hit the first tower.
Each climber raised money and wore a badge with the name and face of a fallen hero. In total, 403 first responders were killed the morning of Sept. 11.
“David Boyle and Michael Arce, when I went back after 9/11 I actually went to their funeral back then,” said 30-year retired Los Angeles County Firefighter, Bob Pera. “They didn’t have enough guys to go to their funerals because they were all working at Ground Zero.”
Pera and his family said this is their second year participating in the San Diego Memorial Stair Climb.
“We will take them up there again today. They didn’t get to finish it last time so we will take them up one more time,” said Pera.
Pera said he will never forget the heroes from that day. Especially, since he got to know Boyle’s and Arce’s families after their deaths.
“It’s an emotional event, climbing these stairs thinking about what those guys went through on 9/11,” Pera added.
Even though they did not make it back down the towers on 9/11, Pera believes they made it some place a little higher up.
“They didn’t get to finish the climb, so we will get to do it for them today,” said Pera.
Pera’s family team is called Extinguish Cancer because Pera battled and won his fight against bladder cancer. He said the cancer stemmed from his time spent fighting fires.
His family works hard to raise money for firefighters fighting cancer and to recognize 9/11 firefighters who survived but are now facing chronic illnesses from the carcinogens they inhaled during their time at Ground Zero.
“I’m glad I am healthy enough to do this. There are a lot of guys back there from 9/11 that are still suffering from illnesses they were infected with that day.”
Each volunteer, which included retired and active firefighters, wore 60 to 70 pounds of gear as they climbed 110 flights of stairs to honor those firefighters who made the same climb at the Twin Towers but never made it back down.
The keynote speaker was Jim Dowdell, a New York Fire Department Firefighter. Dowdell was just 17 when planes hit the towers. His dad, also a firefighter, died that day responding to the attacks.
The money raised for the event goes to San Diego's Firefighter Aid.