ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As the group of Albuquerque firefighters snaked their way through the lobby of the Albuquerque Plaza tower on Monday, onlookers lined the way and applauded during the yearly remembrance of first responders who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Dressed in full firefighting bunker gear, and carrying 45 pounds or more of equipment, 50 men and women of the department climbed up and down the 22-story tower five times, the equivalent of 110 stories – the same number of stories in the ill-fated World Trade Center towers.
Retired fire department Lt. Charles Cogburn is credited with starting the annual climb. He was serving with the military in Afghanistan in 2003 when he saw televised 9/11 remembrance ceremonies taking place in the United States.
“I felt compelled to do something, so I grabbed my weapon and helmet and went to find a staircase in a building and climbed the equivalent of 110 stories,” he said.
Back in Albuquerque the following year he organized the first stairwell climb with members of Fire Department Engine 5 and Engine 2, the stations out of which he was based. The event got noticed nationally and fire departments in other cities began having their own climbs. About 200 cities were expected to hold similar climbs in their communities on Monday, Cogburn said.
“It’s humbling. I never dreamed or imagined it would take off like it did, but firefighting is a brotherhood and we share a lot together, joys and tragedies,” he said.
Capt. Alberto Ortega said Sept. 11 is “a day when firefighters, not only in Albuquerque, but across the nation,” come together to remember the 343 firefighters, police officers and other first responders who perished after answering the call for help.
“It’s great to see the participation, and it shows we will never forget,” Ortega said. “You never hear anybody complaining or anybody gripe about doing it. We all know why we do it, and it’s something we do on a day-in and day-out basis.”
In Rio Rancho Monday evening, Gov. Susana Martinez joined local officials including the daughter, and now local resident, of one of the 9/11 firefighters whose bodies were never found for a ceremony at Vista Verde Cemetery that included a 21-gun salute and helicopter flyover.