‘We leave no one behind’: 20 years later, Spokane area firefighters climb stairs, remember lives lost in 9/11

SPOKANE, Wash. — Twenty years ago Saturday, nearly 3,000 people lost their lives as two planes hit the Twin Towers in New York City.

It’s a day the nation will never forget. Many people remember September 11, 2001, vividly.

“I was getting ready for work. Been on the fire department for about four years, and couldn’t believe it,” said Captain Craig Warzon, with the Spokane Valley Fire Department (SVFD).

“I was on Engine 16 in the Albuquerque Fire Department, and when it all started, I remember thinking it wasn’t real,” added Deputy Chief Frank Soto Jr., with SVFD.

Several ceremonies took place across the Inland Northwest Saturday. From the West Plains to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, firefighters, police and other first responders gathered to remember everyone who died.

LIST: Ceremonies across the Inland Northwest to mark 20th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks

The September 11th terrorist attack broke the hearts of many, and to this day, some firefighters still carry that.

“As a firefighter, when you saw those towers come down, you knew exactly what that meant,” said Andy Rorie, the division chief for SVFD.

“They went in there knowing, they knew. They knew. But, they couldn’t stop themselves, they had to do it,” Warzon said. “That’s something we do. We just, they had to do it.”

Every year, firefighters across the nation and in the Spokane area come together to walk up steps in honor of the loss of heroes in the attack.

On that day, 343 firefighters died. More died in the years to follow as the effects of that day lingered.

“We always say, ‘Never forget. Never forget our brothers and sisters we lost that day,'” Rorie said.

Year after year, area firefighters climb the Bank of America building six times to remember those heroes. That amounts to the 110 stories those firefighters climbed two decades ago.

As firefighters climb the staircase, they have tags attached to their gear with names of those who perished. Years ago, one firefighter wrote down all 343 names on a hose to carry as they walked up the stairs.

Firefighter Scott Niebuhr, with SVFD, says normally on the five-year anniversaries of 9/11, they have bigger climbs with more firefighters. On the 20th anniversary, COVID-19 threw that off.

However, they didn’t let the pandemic stop them from remembering and honoring people. Fewer firefighters climbed together this year. Niebuhr says they made the 9/11 Memorial Charity event virtual. They also allowed anyone, not just firefighters, take part in the climb. They just asked people to try and climb the equivalent of 110 stories.

This year, Niebuhr says people raised $24,500 for the National Fallen Firefighter Foundation, which helps families of firefighters who’ve passed away.

“It’s an honor to have the opportunity to remember everyone, bring it forth. It’s 20 years already. It seems like it was just yesterday in a lot of ways,” Rorie said.

As more time passes on from that tragic day, firefighters say they will continue to do the climb for the lives lost and each other.

“We all may start this job off trying to do our best to help our citizens, and we still do that,” Soto said. “There comes a point in time where you do it for your brother or sister to the right or left of you, and we leave no one behind.”

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