By Heather Jones Skaggs
Photos Courtesy Kenny Fountain and Melanie Posey/City of Hoover

Three hundred, forty-three firefighters and 70 police officers lost their lives the morning of September 11, 2001, as they rushed to the scene of the World Trade Center, climbing its crumbling interior after terrorists hijacked and crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers. Twenty years later, Hoover first responders got a very real taste of what that morning was like as they climbed 110 flights of stairs representing the 110 stories of the World Trade Center to remember and honor the fallen. 

“It made it very real,” says Hoover Police Department Officer Brian Hale. “To have the actual stair climb itself, to be able to walk up the stairs with their names and photos, looking at them in the eyes, it was like we knew them, but we didn’t have to know them. We have chosen the same line of work where we want to help people, and it could have been our names up there. I had the feeling walking up there that if it had been my picture on the wall or around someone’s neck, that they would have been doing the same thing for me. That is just the feeling I got; it was very humbling.”

The Hoover Climb To Remember that Brian and other members of the Hoover Fire Department and Hoover Police Department as well as local citizens took part in was a part of the 20th anniversary remembrance ceremony the City of Hoover hosts each year. Around 80 participants began the climb at the north parking deck of Riverchase Galleria mall on Saturday, each wearing a lanyard with a picture and name to honor a fallen first responder from 9/11. 

Officers and firefighters climbed in their gear while others carried the American flag. Duane Prater, Division Chief and Public Information Officer for the Hoover Fire Department, says that many of the firefighters participating in the Climb To Remember were in full turnout gear, which weighs about 60 pounds, and air packs. Hoover SWAT team members also climbed with their equipment that weighs around 40 pounds and patrol officers with their gear that is about 30 pounds. “They all wanted to experience this as if they were on the call that day,” Duane says. “Until you do something like this and then consider what else they had to do—fight through, get people out—it is difficult to fathom. It gave me a greater perspective for what they had to go through that day.”

Both Brian Hale and Duane Prater say they remember where they were and the emotions they felt 20 years ago. “We hurt for them then and still hurt for them now,” Duane says. “We are a family. Having the lanyard, having someone to climb in honor and remembrance of, combined with the photos on the walls of the men and women we lost that day, brings back all the emotions. Any day, it could be one of us.”

First responders run in the direction of danger—they are part of something bigger than themselves. For some, it is a calling, and it is in their blood. Both Duane and Brian are second-generation public servants. In simplest terms, they want to help people and protect their community. “We are here to help,” Duane says. “We see people at their worst times; it could be a car wreck, a medical call, fire, etc. Being that calm voice to see them through the situation, it is rewarding and an honor. 

Brian echoes those reflections: “I like to think that we are like servant guardians, sheep dogs guarding our flock. We want to guard our flock, and we are ok with putting ourselves in harm’s way to see that our community is taken care of and safe. My heart breaks for the men and women we lost and their families. It is a reminder for all of us to have ‘that talk’ with our families, to tell them we love them.”