About 20 firefighters geared up to climb the steps of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Tuesday, but it wasn’t to put out a fire.
Instead, they and roughly 150 other people joined together at the stadium for the second-annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, which honored the first responders who died during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of September 11, 2001, which killed almost 3,000 people when multiple planes were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon.
The UF Collegiate Veterans Society, a student-veteran organization, put together the 1,980-step climb, which is equivalent to the 110 floors of the World Trade Center towers, said Rick Hurtado, the media liaison for the veterans group.
The memorial also included a 343-second moment of silence, one second for every firefighter that died from the attacks. During the moment of silence, the audience tensed up when unplanned sirens were heard passing outside the stadium.
It’s important to have events that address attacks because the newest generation doesn’t have a memory of them, Hurtado said.
“We need to keep telling these stories to remember the selfless dedication to duty that these first responders had,” he said. “For them, it was more than a job, and we need to celebrate their heroism.”
Jonathan Campbell, a 33-year-old firefighter and paramedic for Levy County Fire Rescue, made the climb in full gear, complete with an oxygen tank, a face mask, his uniform and helmet to honor the memory of his “brothers” that died in the 9/11 attacks.
“I wouldn’t do the climb without my gear,” he said. “They did it, so why can’t I?”
Dan Mullen, the head football coach of the Florida Gators, spoke to the crowd before climb. He said people need to remember the sacrifices that first responders make for citizens every day.
“I’m very fortunate to live my dream and coach football,” he said. “They go out every day and allow us to live our dreams.”
Ivanna Dilorenzo, an 18-year-old UF fire and emergency medical service management sophomore, made her climb more intense by wearing all black in the 91-degree weather. She wanted to feel more heat to experience what first responders felt on 9/11.
“I want to feel at least 5 percent of what they felt,” she said.
On the verge of tears, Reed Olin, a 43-year-old Gainesville resident and veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Army, said these events help to remember the people we’ve lost.
“It’s important to remember that people risk their lives to have the freedom to hold events like this,” he said.
Contributing writer Serah Alafiatayo contributed to this report.