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Honoring the fallen: Red Rocks stair climb serves as a way to remember 9/11

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By Deborah Swearingen

Shelly Bennett came to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre for the first time Tuesday morning with plans for a hike.

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But those plans soon changed when she saw the hordes of people gathered in the amphitheater’s upper south parking lot. Quickly, Bennett and her crew from Wisconsin — Taylor and Sheila Hibl and Kevin Bale — became four of about 2,300 people who participated in the Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.

Alongside thousands of others, the group made its way up the winding ramp into Red Rocks, eager to catch a first glimpse of the iconic venue and to participate in the commemorative event. They would be returning later in the evening to see Rascal Flatts perform.

The Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb is organized yearly by Shawn Duncan of West Metro Fire Rescue and Cody McGinnis of Aurora Fire Rescue. The climb serves as a way for firefighters, other first responders and members of the public to honor and remember the 343 New York firefighters who died 17 years ago. The stair climb benefits the New York City Fire Department’s Counseling Services Unit and the programs provided by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation to support the families of the nation’s fallen. According to the event’s fundraising website, the climb raised nearly $75,000 this year.

Those participating in the climb made their way up and down the stairs of Red Rocks nine times; each step of their journey meant to mimic the 110 flights climbed by first responders during the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City. Many climbers wore an ID badge of a New York firefighter who died on 9/11, and some also wore their firefighting gear or American Flag memorabilia.

Although the event has been going on for 10 years, this year’s Memorial Stair Climb featured something new – seven chimes of the Honor Bell. The bell, commissioned by the Honor Bell Foundation, is forged from bronze and includes melted down medals and insignia from Colorado veterans.

The Honor Bell Foundation participates in services for veterans as well as educational programs and military-related events such as the Colorado 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. The large bronze bell is rung solely by veterans. At Tuesday’s event, West Metro firefighter and Air Force veteran Brad Harmon had the honor.

“I’m passionate about supporting those who serve and protect our nation and our neighborhoods,” said Michelle Mallin, executive director and co-founder of the organization.

In addition to having family in the service, she’s a native New Yorker, so the Memorial Stair Climb is of particular interest.

“I don’t think we can do enough to honor those who have given their all to protect us,” Mallin said.

West Metro Fire Chief Don Lombardi generally speaks at the event, but he was helping members of Colorado Task Force 1 prepare to deploy to the Carolinas for Hurricane Florence. Instead, West Metro Division Chief Bob Olme shared a few thoughts prior to the group’s ascent into Red Rocks.

“What a day,” Olme said. “Early on, I think we all viewed this day with a lot of sadness, and I would challenge you today to view it with courage and with hope. Because the people that walked up those stairs and never made it home, (there is) no better example of courage, honor and service.”