343 fallen NY firefighters honored in Mesa County

From left, Andy Bell, Masson Sturgill and Tanner Huskey use the stairstepper machines at Mesa Fitness in Clifton to honor the 9/11 firefighters by climbing 110 flights of stairs, or about 1980 steps, on Sept. 11.

Clifton Fire Chief Charles Balke, working for the Whetstone Fire Department at the time, had a off day on Sept. 11, 2001. He still remembers rushing back to the office after the second World Trade Center tower was hit and he realized the day's attacks were no accident.

"To this day I remember the gut-wrenching feeling I had," Balke said. "The fire service and America changed forever in that moment."

Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

"Nobody wants to see another 9/11 happen again, but the patriotism I saw by this country on 9/12 is unprecedented," he added.

Balke and several members of Clifton Fire Protection District spent Wednesday morning sweating as they headed up 110 stories on stair climbers at Mesa Fitness. The 110 stories they climbed were meant to simulate the 110 stories of the World Trade Center firefighters in New York City had to climb up to rescue those trapped in the twin towers.

Each Clifton firefighter wore the same type of firefighting gear, weighing around 50 pounds, used by first responders that day.

Balke said that included firefighting turnout gear, weighing just under 25 pounds, and self-contained breathing apparatuses. They were all dripping in sweat by the end of their climb.

Six Clifton firefighters took to stair climbers at Mesa Fitness, while four others headed to the Front Range for the 2019 Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.

They were among the 343 firefighters in the state at Red Rocks Amphitheatre to participate in the 110 story climb to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the attacks.

According to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, 9/11 memorial stair climbs have become a popular way for firefighters and others to honor the climb made by New York first responders and to pay tribute to the 343 firefighters who died responding to the World Trade Center that day.

"I'm honored to be able to do this in remembrance of their sacrifice," Balke said during his climb.

He added that one day doesn't feel like enough.

First-year firefighter Shayla Silva, who graduated from the academy in January and will officially join the department in December, called becoming a firefighter the most rewarding journey she's ever been on in her life.

She said it was truly an honor to celebrate those that gave their lives to protect others.

"Those were some of the strongest men and women," she said. "We are doing this to honor our brotherhood."

Aside from the stair climbers, Clifton Fire and other Mesa County Fire Departments displayed flags along Interstate 70 and in other areas of town in remembrance of what happened 18 years ago.

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