At 110 floors, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were once the tallest buildings in the world.
It’s made that number — 110 — significant to those honoring the sacrifice of the firefighters who responded to the skyscrapers during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since 2001, firefighters and others around the country have put on turnout gear and climbed the height of the World Trade Center buildings on stair climber fitness machines.
On Tuesday, Ben Powell, a Tooele Army Depot employee, took on the 110 flights of stair challenge to honor first responders. Powell comes from a family with numerous firefighters on his father’s side and said the tribute is popular with firefighters in other states.
While Powell was unable to become a firefighter due to asthma, he asked around TEAD to find a firefighter willing to lend him gear to complete the memorial stair climb. At first, there was no response, but just before the deadline, he was lent the gear.
Powell said Tooele Army Fire Department firefighters were there to witness his attempt on the stair climb, which he described as a neat experience. He said he didn’t train for the tribute but managed to complete 100 floors.
“It was a lot tougher than I planned on it being,” Powell said.
Powell was quick to express how his attempt at the 110 flights of stairs was in ideal conditions in an air-conditioned gym, yet he still felt overheated from the gear. He contrasted his experience with that of responders on 9/11, who were wearing oxygen masks, carrying heavy oxygen tanks, and additional firefighting tools.
He also didn’t have to deal with the smoke, dust and falling debris that challenged first responders in New York and Washington, D.C.
Powell cited how quickly firefighters, like New York City Fire Department Battalion Chief Orio Palmer, were able to make it to the 78th floor of the South Tower, where the plane struck the building.
“It’s just kind of unbelievable to think how fast they were able to get up there,” he said.
Palmer took an elevator to the 41st floor, then traveled the rest of the floors on foot, and led the team that first reached the impact site.
Palmer was killed when the South Tower collapsed. Of the 2,977 victims of the terrorist attack, 343 were firefighters.
Powell described the bravery it took for firefighters to enter the Twin Towers or the Pentagon on the days of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“At the end of the day, I came home,” he said. “Those guys didn’t.”
Powell said growing up around firefighters gave him more perspective on how firefighting efforts continue long after a disaster is considered over, or a fire is out. This was especially true in a disaster the size and scope of the 9/11 attacks.
“It wasn’t over the next day,” Powell said. “It wasn’t over a week later.”
Despite Powell’s insistence on contrasting his experience to the first responders at 9/11 and other incidents, he said the memorial stair climb was a great experience and hinted that he may attempt it again next year.