Volunteers, first responders and their families will sport lanyards with the faces of 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine Emergency Medical Services personnel who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11. It’s all part of the second Columbia Memorial Stair Climb.
What is the Memorial Stair Climb?
Columbia’s climb is a part of the Association of Memorial Stair Climbs, a nonprofit that began in 2013. After an opening ceremony featuring bagpipes, participants weave around Memorial Stadium and climb up 110 flights of stairs — the same number of flights as the World Trade Center. The only pauses will be to take moments of silence at the times firefighters died. Additionally, more than 200 registered climbers will honor line-of-duty deaths from Boone County. “By the time that opening ceremony’s done, there’s not a dry eye left in the stadium,” says Columbia Memorial Stair Climb director Tommy Goran.
What is the goal?
Goran says the objective is first and foremost to honor the victims of 9/11, but it’s also important to educate the community on the struggles that continue long after the flames die down. Firefighters are diagnosed with cancer at higher rates than the general U.S. population because of their job risks. In 2016, 70 percent of line-of-duty deaths for all firefighters were from cancer, according to the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. This hits home especially hard for Columbians, as former division chief Marc Wright died from cancer in January. Last year, he climbed all 110 stairs as the leader of the inaugural Memorial Stair Climb.
This cause is starting to gain recognition at the state level. In December, Rep. Shane Roden of Jefferson City introduced a House bill that would make it easier for firefighters to claim that their cancer was caused by their job. Goran says the piece of legislation is huge for the firefighting community.
How will the event support first responders?
Columbia organizers selected two local beneficiaries of this year’s climb. One is the Missouri Chapter of the Firefighter Cancer Support Network. In part, the network conducts research about cancer caused by fighting fires and provides support by putting recently diagnosed firefighters into contact with other cancer survivors. The other beneficiary is Safety Net of Missouri, which works to financially support families of those killed in the line of duty in Boone and Cole counties. “If I died tonight at a fire, they would show up to my wife and kids and financially support them with a $5,000 check and continue to support them in any way they can,” Goran says.
What does the future of the climb look like?
Goran’s ultimate goal for the Memorial Stair Climb is that all first responders who lost their lives on 9/11 or died in the line of duty in mid-Missouri are represented. He stresses that holding the stair climb at Memorial Stadium, as opposed to a high-rise building, doesn’t limit the number of people who can participate. “I want to make it something that people put on their calendars in advance,” Goran says. ￼