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Dickinson firefighters climb 110 flights of stairs in honor of 9/11 fallen

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Mason Geiger, Dan Flathers and Jared Rhode, firefighters with the Dickinson Fire Department, climbed 110 flights of stairs in honor of the fallen firefighters who lost their lives on Sept.11, 2001 in the rescue efforts. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

Every year on Sept. 11, firefighters from across North Dakota participate in the North Dakota 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at the capitol in Bismarck. This year, the event was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The stair climb honors the 343 firefighters from the New York City Fire Department who lost their lives in the rescue effort during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mason Geiger, a first year firefighter with the Dickinson Fire Department, heard about the climb and its cancellation from fellow firefighters who participated in the past. He suggested they use the stair climbers at West River Community Center.

"We were on shift when we were talking about it. I just came here the next morning and sat down with the manager, Caleb. He said he was all for it," Geiger said.

He was just two years old when the towers collapsed on that fateful day in September.

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Fellow firefighter, Jared Rhode, who has spent all four years of his career at DFD, was also young.

"I was just coming in from recess, and all the teachers were huddled around the TV screen. I think I was probably in 3rd grade. I had no idea what was going on. I found out later," Rhode said.

Dan Flathers, a DFD firefighter who also participated, was a sophomore in high school.

"Ultimately, it's our duty in the fire service to look out for the citizens we serve, and even if it means to that point, so it's important that we remember that and take it seriously and do the best we can to serve our community," Flathers said.

They climbed the 110 flights of stairs on the stair climber this year.

"To put it in (perspective), it's just over two miles if you were to walk it," Rhode said.

It took them just over 30 minutes to complete the climb.

"We were in our full PPE (personal protective equipment), but we didn't have nearly as much stuff as the guys that climbed the twin towers that day. They had high-rise packs, tools, extra air bottles. We just had an air pack on, our normal stuff," Geiger said.

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While they were carrying an extra 75-80 lbs., the firefighters responding to the attack carried upwards of 100 lbs.

"The stair stepper is nice because you can just do the 110 and get it over with, but in Bismarck the heat level being in the stairwell (because) there's no airflow, you get a lot harder and it takes longer because you're following other people. The thing about Bismarck that's great is the camaraderie with all the other departments there across the state," Rhode said.

Since the capitol building doesn't have nearly as many floors as the World Trade Center did, the firefighters took the elevator down and walked back up until they had climbed the 110 flights of stairs.

The National Stair Climb is hosted by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation and benefits the FDNY Counseling Service Unit and programs provided by the foundation to support the families of fallen firefighters.

"On 9/11, we lost a lot of brothers and sisters, and it's a great way to remember them. They made the ultimate sacrifice. They left everything and went up into the towers and helped people that were in need," Geiger said.

The 9/11 attacks were the deadliest incident ever for firefighters in the United States.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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