MANCHESTER, NH – The tradition of commemorating the lives of the 343 New York City firefighters who died in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center with a memorial stair climb in New Hampshire will continue this year, thanks to a Merrimack Firefighter whose own life was guided by the heroic men and women who answered the call that day.
For Lenwood Brown III, it is a natural progression of his personal quest to give something back to the community, a life-changing path he felt inspired to follow as a direct result of 9/11, one which directly led him to become a firefighter.
“When 9/11 happened I was working in the private sector, and it really changed my perspective on life. Afterward, I felt I wanted to give back more somehow, and it took some time to figure out what I wanted to do and how to get there, But for me 9/11 is special personally, because it was the turning point in my life when I decided there was more to life than going to work, making money and coming home again. It led me to finding my new family within fire service,” says Brown.
The “Never Forget” 9/11 Stair Climb, set for Sept. 9 at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium, will be the seventh consecutive year that New Hampshire has participated in the national fundraising event, which benefits the National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation. Last year, founders of the annual New Hampshire 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, Manchester firefighter Greg Bolduc, and Nashua firefighter Bill Campbell, made it known they were ready to pass the baton. Over the six years they organized the event, they helped raise more than $100,000 for the cause.
Brown had participated in all the previous New Hampshire stair climbs, and was disappointed to know there might not be one in New Hampshire this year. He saw an opportunity to get involved, and keep the tradition going.
But even before opportunity knocked, Brown had already been pondering ways he could do more to share his reverence for 9/11 with the next generation. In Merrimack, high school seniors come to the fire station each year before graduating, to do a day of volunteer community service.
That got his wheels turning.
“In talking to those folks, who are 17 and 18 years old, I realized as they prepare to go on to the next step in their lives that they don’t have the connection with 9/11 that I had,” says Brown. “One of them hadn’t even been born yet, and the others I spoke to were 1 and 2 years old when 9/11 happened. I also realized that many of the people coming into fire service now are as young as 20 and 21 years old. So before I even knew that this year’s stair climb wasn’t being organized, I wanted to figure out a way to pass on to younger people, under the age of 25, how important it is. I wanted to give them something to hold on to, including the importance of remembering.”
Brown has been a full-time Merrimack firefighter for four years, and has been involved through volunteer and on-call fire service for 15. Before that, he was working in graphic design and marketing.
All of a sudden, Brown saw a way to bring those two worlds together.
BELOW: Video of the Lancaster 9/11 Stair Climb
He started by doing some research about how other communities handle memorial stair climbs, and came across an event in Lancaster, PA, held at the Clipper Magazine minor league baseball stadium.
“I reached out to Stephanie Fournier and the Fisher Cats to see what we could do,” says Brown. “I didn’t want this event to be just like the original one – my understanding was that the organizers for whatever reason just weren’t able to organize it this year, but that they might want to continue it again at the Brady Sullivan Plaza in the future. I wanted to keep the tradition going for this year, but didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes in any way, shape or form.”
It didn’t take long for Fournier, who is Fisher Cats Director of Hospitality and Special Events, to share Brown’s vision.
“After talking with Lenwood, I did exactly what he did, I started researching. I looked at the minor league ball park in Pennsylvania, and the logistics, and then I called him back and told him we’d love to do something like this here,” Fournier says. “We realized the ball park was a perfect fit for this type of event, not only for participants, but now we could add a new element, for spectators.”
Brown explains that there will be a common start/finish line, and participants will go up and down each section of the bleachers beginning in the lower section and then looping to the upper deck. Seven complete trips around is the equivalent of 106 stories. Accounting for the decline makes up for the additional four stories, which equals the traditional 110 stories incorporated into memorial stair climb. It should take participants 2.5-3 hours depending on the pace.
Unlike previous New Hampshire stair climbs, which are contained inside a high-rise building, everybody spectating and climbing will be able to see the entire event, says Brown.
“In Brady Sullivan its a secluded experience. It’s just you and the folks in the stairwell. My wife’s come every year but always been outside, she couldn’t see what was going on, and there wasn’t even enough Wifi to Facetime her,” says Brown. “This year, It will be like one giant conga line.”
The goal, as always, is to get at least 343 participants to represent each firefighter lost in the line of duty on September 11, although Brown said he should be able to accommodate up to 500 participants. The public is invited to participate, says Brown.
“Most of the firefighters will be wearing full turnout gear, tools and everything. That’s always the adventure for us. This year, we’ll have the added benefit, or downside, of the weather,” Brown says.
As always, there will be a solemn opening ceremony during which all 343 names will be read, and a bell will toll for each name.
Check-in begins at 7:15 a.m., and the climb starts promptly at 9 a.m. After the climb there will be limited concessions open at the Sam Adams Brewhouse for participants and spectators to refuel and refresh.
Joining forces with the Fisher Cats organization, for Brown, creates an opportunity for a true community experience.
“I think for everybody’s first time doing a stair climb, it’s a good opportunity to reflect, and take in the sights and sounds of people around you and think about the person you’re climbing for, and all the other people who died that day,” Brown says. “But by the second and third and fourth time you do it, it becomes less of a solemn occasion, and more of a bringing together of the fire service family. Not to say it’s not solemn, but a funeral is a really bad day. Gathering to remember that person years later really becomes more of a celebration of their lives, and the spirit of brotherhood.”
Fournier says it also is an opportunity for the Fisher Cats to give back.
“Obviously most people recognize the Fisher Cats for baseball and family fun, but we have a lot of community events we do, so when we were approached about this, the idea of being able to give back was something we were happy to do – and we’re really proud to be able to partner with Lenwood on this,” Fournier said.
The cost to participate is $25 per climber, with 100 percent of profits going to the National Fallen Fire Fighter Foundation, which continues to aid families of those firefighters who lost family members in 2001, and also those firefighters who have since developed cancer or lost their lives due to complications and after-effects from being at ground zero.
“The National Fallen Fire Fighter Foundation does important work, and this event has come to mean so much to me and to so many others. I’m glad to have been able to come up with a solution, so that the tradition can continue this year,” Brown said.
About the Never Forget 9/11 Stair Climb
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001 we promised never to forget the events of that day. New Hampshire has held a memorial stair climb each of the last six years and the ‘Never Forget’ NH 9/11 StairClimb continues that tradition. Each participant will climb in remembrance carrying the name of one of the 343 firefighters lost that day. The climb is a physically demanding, seven-lap course through Northeast Delta Dental Stadium to reach the equivalent of 110 stories. For more information on the Never Forget 9/11 Stair Climb, or to register to be a participant, go to neverforgetstairclimb.com.
- Early registration is $25 per participant and includes two tickets to the August 24, 2017 baseball game between the NH Fisher Cats and the Hartford Yard Goats.
- Registration after August 24, 2017 will cost $35 per participant.
- Commemorative T-shirts available for $7 during registration