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McConnell firefighters join Wichita 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb

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McConnell Air Force Base Fire Emergency Services firemen pose for a photo after the fifth Wichita 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb Sept. 7, 2019, at the Epic Center in Wichita, Kan. During the 110 flight climb, 12 of McConnell’s team members joined other firemen from communities surrounding Wichita to honor the 343 firefighter that passed during the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. (Courtesy photo)

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- Active, retired, career and volunteer firefighters made up the 343 participants at the fifth Wichita 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the Epic Center, Wichita, Kansas, each representing a firefighter that died during the attack on the twin towers. For the first time, McConnell Air Force Base had 12 active and civilian firemen ascending the 110 flights of stairs.

“We felt the need [to] honor these men and women who lost their lives,” said Richard Barnett, McConnell AFB Fire Emergency Services assistant chief of operations.

Barnett explained that each participant attached a photo of one of the 343 firefighters who died during the 9/11 tower collapse to their personal protective equipment. Firefighters from the local communities, making up 54 teams, wore full bunker gear during the event to simulate the 110 story climb that New York City Fire Department personnel took at the World Trade Center.

“I walked for a [man] named James Coyle,” said Airman 1st Class Cody LaRocque, 26, 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “He was actually on vacation that day during 9/11 and he decided to come in and fight the fires. The guy was my age.”

LaRocque described how difficult the climb was, even without hoses and other equipment that would have been used during the tower collapse. While climbing, recordings of radio traffic that occurred during the response to the attacks was emitted.

“It made you realize how special [the climb] was,” said LaRocque. “So many people died during that time, it’s the least that I could do.”

He explained that there were posters on the stairs with encouraging words that local children made to help peak the climber’s determination to reach the top of the tower.

“It was not easy,” said LaRocque. “I thought – eh, it won’t be too bad – and then all the sudden, the second time we went up, I was like – wow, this is pretty rough.”

McConnell’s team joined several fire departments, including some from outside the Wichita community. During the climb, each rang the bell at the top and spoke the name of one of the 343 fireman that died during the attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

“[The event] was pretty awesome – I mean – it just gave me goosebumps a few times just hearing [about my] guy and how he came in during his off time to come in, fight and give his life.”