It was a Tuesday morning like any other as many Americans set to the task of work and school. Then it happened, almost unfathomably Americans watched as four coordinated terrorist attacks by the militant Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda would claim the lives of 2,977 people, 412 of which were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center. The attacks would leave 6,000 injured and changed the lives of 284,607,991 Americans and countless others across the world.
In memory of those brave first responders, at 8:46 a.m. every Sept. 11, a number stands out in the minds of firefighters across the country — 2,071, the number of steps firefighters raced up in their attempts to save the countless who were suffering and dying.
As fire departments and communities across the nation honor the thousands of lives lost that day in an annual stair climb tradition, Firefighters from the Dickinson Fire Department will likewise suit up in full gear and begin the lengthy climb as participants in the annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Biesiot Activities Center in Dickinson.
The climb kicks off with registration at 8 a.m., with guest speaker Dr. Analena Lunde at 8:45 a.m. Lunde will share her own harrowing story of being a flight nurse and medic in response to the Department of Defense on that fateful day two decades ago. Following Lunde’s comments, bagpipes will begin their solemn cries as the event officially launches at 9 a.m.
Known as the deadliest day for firefighters in history, Dickinson firefighter Tyler Berger said he is honored to participate in this ritual each year in mourning and remembrance.
“Those guys went to do a job. They went to work that morning like any other day,” Berger said. “That’s what we signed up to do. We sign up to help our citizens and help the public any way we can. They didn’t know those buildings were going to fall. But in the back of their minds, they knew it wasn’t safe (and) it wasn’t a good situation, and they still climbed. They still went up to get people out… It can’t be forgotten.”
Berger has been full-time with DFD for six years, and has served in the fire service industry for more than 14 years. When the four coordinated terrorist attacks hit the United States, Berger noted that it was a day he’ll never forget.
“I was a sophomore in high school and I had just gotten to school and heard about it through some of my friends talking. And then that whole day, we basically (from) class to class, watching the news,” he said. “Everyone couldn’t believe it. We didn’t know what was going to happen. It was scary. It’s something everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing.”
Growing up in a fire service family, Berger noted that in kindergarten he wanted to become like his father — a fireman. What unfolded on 9/11 would further inspire Berger to join the fire service, giving back to his community. But it also meant being a part of a family.
“It’s kind of a cliche saying it’s a second family. But it’s not a cliche. That’s really what it is. You spend all of this time with these guys and that’s what it becomes — family. So as far as 9/11 and the climb, (we) remember those fallen firefighters (who were also) fallen brothers and sisters. They’re family. We lost all of them. That was so many years ago, but it still hits home to everybody in the fire service,” Berger added.
In 2020, Berger participated in his first stair climb with fellow firefighters at the West River Community Center. On Aug. 6, Berger traveled to Indianapolis for the 2021 Fire Department Instructors Conference 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It was pretty neat. There were a lot of people from all over that came together and climbed. Some people (wore their) full turnout gear, and then some people just wore workout clothes or a variation. Some did it with just their bunker bottoms on and no pack or their turnout gear,” he said, adding, “... While you’re climbing, you get tired because it’s a lot. It’s like 2,000 (or) so many stairs.”
Though Berger won't be participating in this year's Dickinson's stair climb, he remarked how strenuous of a test the Indianapolis climb was. It forced himself among other firefighters to take breaks from time to time. Wearing all of his gear and carrying an air pack on his back, Berger finished the stair climb in approximately 45 minutes.
“That’s what they were (wearing). They had all of their gear; they were ready to go up and help people, you know,” Berger noted. “It was pretty cool. So for me, it was a personal thing to climb with all of their gear on.”
In years past, Dickinson firefighters have participated in walking and/or climbing the equivalent of 110 stories at the West River Community Center or the annual stair climb event at the North Dakota State Capitol in Bismarck. This is the first year the Dickinson City Fire Auxiliary is hosting the event.
“I think it's important just to come together, like I said, as a community and not just as a community, but as a nation… and remember those days that everybody has sacrificed, both people have sacrificed their lives for others (to) save them,” President Sarah Selle said.
The Dickinson City Fire Auxiliary — which is composed of firefighters’ spouses and significant others — organizes events and fundraisers throughout the year in efforts to help burn victims and purchase equipment for the fire department, Selle said.
Registration is $30 per climber, which goes toward the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and helps 9/11 victims and their families. As of Friday, Sept. 3, the stair climb has raised more than $8,600 with both registered climbers and donations.
“We're looking forward to actually just getting the community involved as well as local fire departments,” Selle said.
To register for the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, visit nfff.akaraisin.com/dickinson.