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10 years later, pain and remembrance

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3,000 attend Red Rocks Stair Climb to honor the victims of Sept. 11

By Barbara Ford

Whether they were in Colorado or New York on Sept. 11, 2001, people came to Red Rocks on Sunday to walk the stairs and remember the first-responders, friends and family who died on that tragic day.

Approximately 3,000 firefighters and community members from 22 states participated in the Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. People climbed the amphitheater’s stairs nine times to commemorate the 110 flights that New York City firefighters climbed to try to save the occupants of the World Trade Center.

This year, twice as many people participated in the event and raised $50,025 to help the West Metro Fire/Rescue Foundation and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. West Metro Fire Protection District Local 1309 sponsored the walk, which began at 9:03 a.m. to commemorate the moment United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower.

Everyone who attended the stair climb had a memory from that fateful day — recalling where they were when the planes hit the twin towers or the hours spent fearing for friends who lived near Ground Zero. Others were so scarred by the attacks that they left the city, never to return.

 

An eyewitness who helped

For Rosey Velez of San Angelo, Texas, Sept. 11 was not just a horrific tragedy that he witnessed on television — it was an event he experienced in person.

Velez, now in a wheelchair, was a first-responder in New York City and was at the corner of Greenwich and Vesey streets when Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapsed. He and his comrades searched for victims for the next month.

Velez doesn’t talk about the horrifying moments of that day, the same way veterans are often reticent to tell of the battles they witnessed. But Velez would talk about the outpouring of emotion he saw at Red Rocks.

“We were just doing our job, not for a paycheck but because it’s a calling in your heart,” Velez said. “Look at all these people here for us.” 

He spoke briefly to the crowd about his experience, how doctors gave him only 36 months to live and how he beat those odds.

As with many others who spent weeks digging through the rubble, health issues plague Velez; he suffers from lymphedema, type 2 diabetes, thyroid problems and a host of other medical issues.

“I take it day by day,” he said.

Velez had never seen Red Rocks before and worked his way to the top to admire the view. His progress was slow because people kept shaking his hand and saying thank you.

Velez wants people to know it wasn’t just firefighters who lost their lives that day during rescue efforts. A total of 411 emergency workers from the New York City Fire Department, the New York City Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department, emergency medical technicians and paramedics from private emergency medical services died as well. 

On the back of Velez’s power chair are these words: “Don’t forget 9/11. I fight what you fear.”

 

‘Emotions and anger’

Lt. Skip Shirlaw of Inter-Canyon Fire/Rescue was one of 22 firefighters who represented the department at the Red Rocks event. He carried a large American flag as he made his way through the sea of blue shirts. Shirlaw said that even a decade later, the attacks of Sept. 11 can seem like yesterday.

“This brings back emotions and anger,” Shirlaw said. “This affected everyone and brought us together as a nation.”

Shirlaw said each time he sees an image of one of the towers falling, the feelings come rushing back.

“The photo of the woman sitting on the sidewalk after the towers fell — that picture says it all,” Shirlaw said.

Michael Aguayo, 8, isn’t old enough to remember 2001, but on the back of his military-style uniform is a picture of Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher G. Campbell, a member of Navy SEAL Team 6 who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in August. For someone so young, Michael knows quite a bit about what happened the day the towers fell. 

“Planes bashed into the buildings, and firefighters tried to save people,” Michael said.

 

Smiles and steps

Erin Reilly and friend TC Wait held a large flag at the top of Red Rocks’ north stairs. Both encouraged climbers as they walked by, the walkers’ steps brisk at first, then slower with each circuit.

Reilly, of Morrison, is the wife of a volunteer firefighter, Mike Reilly, and said their 2-year-old son, Jackson, when old enough, will be told of the sacrifices made by people that day.

“I don’t think people are forgetting; I think they will always remember,” Reilly said.

Wait said local fourth-graders recently sent letters to Inter-Canyon firefighters, telling them how much they are appreciated. The gesture was heartwarming for the firefighters and educational for the kids.

“These kids had no idea what they are commemorating, but now they are starting to get it,” she said.

Along with remembrance and American pride, Wait brought humor.

“It’s easier to hold the flag than it is trying to walk those stairs,” Wait said.

A group of 17 people from Otis Elevator Co. in Colorado gathered in the parking lot an hour or so before the day’s events.

Gordon Sell, general manager of the Colorado operation, said Otis high-speed elevators were in the twin towers. But of course no technology in existence could have carried everyone to safety that day.

“This is an emotional time for our company,” Sell said.

After group pictures had been taken and as the Otis empoyees waited for their turn to enter the amphitheater, they were a little apprehensive about the number of steps in 110 stories.

“We’re an elevator company,” Sell joked. “We don’t do steps.”

 

Contact Barbara Ford at barbara@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1043. Check

www.HighTimberTimes.com for updates.