On Saturday morning, 350 individuals filed into the Robert W. Plaster Sports Complex to participate in the Springfield Area Memorial Stair Climb.
The climb is a tribute to fallen first responders whose lives were lost during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and all those who have lost their lives on duty under similar circumstances.
Climbers completed five laps, traveling up and down the stairs around the stadium. On the fourth lap a bell was rung, and each individual read out the name of a fallen firefighter lost during 9/11.
This is done on the fourth lap at the 50-yard line, because it is about equal to 78 floors of stairs, which was the highest floor reached by Orio Palmer, a Battalion Chief of the New York City Fire Department, who died while rescuing civilians during 9/11.
"Hey bud," Adam Neff, a Battalion Chief of the Nixa Fire Protection District, exchanges with other firefighters, fundraisers and climbers. As the founder of the event, Neff had the honor of announcing Orio Palmer’s name during the climb.
Neff was inspired to organize a stair climb in the fall of 2012 after one of his friends was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, however, the idea was pushed aside until he proposed the idea to a few like-minded individuals in the fire service community.
This then became a reality in 2013 when the first Springfield Area Memorial Stair Climb took place. The event had 200 climbers and raised $11,000. Seven years later in 2019, the event has gathered 350 climbers and is expected to raise anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000, which is donated and dispersed to other services by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
“To say is this program successful, you really have to define what success is,” Neff said. For him, the success of the event is measured by the people.
“Dollars being raised is nice, but the important thing is having people show up every year and experience it,” Neff said.
That is one reason why this is an event for everyone to participate in, not just firefighters. Everybody climbs with each other, a civilian could be climbing right next to a firefighter in full gear, carrying equipment.
“I cannot tell people what it is like, they just have to experience it, and the recurring theme is that [the climb] is really heavy physically and emotionally,” Neff said, wiping away tears.
The event is meant to be a tribute while serving to educate and inform younger generations that may not have been alive during the time of the tragedy or were too young to remember.
“It really has enabled people to use this [the climb] as a starting conversation, especially for their children,” Neff said.
Battalion Chief Josh Donham of the Nixa Fire Protection District can relate to the educational component as he was only in middle school when 9/11 occurred.
“Everybody knows where they were at when it (9/11) happened, it was a mark in time,” Donham said. “But now for people that had not been around or never saw it or experienced that impact, this is a way to remember those lives lost and bring that impact home with them.”
The Springfield Area Memorial Stair Climb has increased in money raised and climbers each year. Both Neff and Donham hope to see the event continue to grow in the future through education and student involvement.
“I hope that it continues to be successful,” Donham said. “With any event, as time goes on the impact becomes less because there are less people that were around when it happened, and it gets buried in the history books. I think as we continue to grow we need to remember and keep that impact up to teach these younger generations about (9/11).”