KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Each of the firefighters at the Third Annual Kansas City 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb remember where they were when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center North Tower at 8:46 a.m., September 11, 2001.
But former New York City firefighter Tony Emanuele lived it. His now 12-year-old son was only six months old that day. Tony was 50 yards from the north tower when it started to collapse. This is the first time he has spoken publicly about the tragedy.
“Personally I lost 22 of my very close friends and co-workers and numerous others that I just knew," Emanuele said.
In the nine seconds it took for the tower to collapse, Tony dove into a subway entrance.
"Our total command structure was wiped out. And to see the other firemen doing what they knew had to be done and overcoming the obstacles we had that nobody could have imagined happening. It was total mayhem," Emanuele said.
On Sunday 343 firefighters, one for every brother lost on 9/11, strapped on 80 pounds of gear and climbed 110 stories.
“This is so emotional for me. I know everyone cares, for them to continue on for everyone that was lost that day is truly amazing. And how their hearts are in it, it truly is a brotherhood and it’s fabulous,” Emanuele said.
In addition to the emotions of the climb, the grueling physical nature takes a heavy toll on the climbers.
“It’s tough. I don't care how good of shape you are in, it’s grueling. You just gotta keep going," Independence firefighter Michael Hall said.
Pictures lined the staircases of those who bravely rushed in to rescue people who were trapped. Each firefighter was motivated by a tag that was draped around their neck.
“I’ve climbed for Fautino. This will be the third year I've climbed for him. Its special because I made it to the top and he didn't that day,” Independence firefighter Missy Lothamer said.
Supporters cheered as the patriotic teams of firefighters finish their grueling climb.
“It’s important that we keep this tradition going by what we started here in the climb so that we can teach generations to come what it was like on that day,” Lawrence firefighter Dave Bova said.
And finally, each exhausted firefighter climbed a final flight and rang a traditional fire bell, reinforcing their promise to "never forget."
"Today its gonna ring three times at five rings each and that symbolizes that a firefighter has not returned home from the call they were on,” the climb’s founder, Oren Briese, said.
Proceeds from the climb go to the surviving spouse and family endowment fund. More than 6,000 climbers from eight countries now participate in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb.