Local first responders honor 9/11 victims with stair climb

A climber selects a fallen first responder to represent during the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Natalie Parks | Staff

Natalie Parks

Over 300 first responders and community members gathered at Kroger Field on the evening of Sept. 11 to honor the first responders who died in the 9/11 attacks.

Members of the Lexington Fire Department, Lexington Police Department, UK Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC and other local departments, along with members of the public, climbed the equivalent of 110 flights of stairs in memoriam of the 403 firefighters and police officers who died on 9/11.

Climbers wore a badge with the name and image of a 9/11 first responder or a fallen Lexington officer. As they completed a lap, the climbers rang a bell and said the name of the person they climbed for.

“We’re climbing for own fallen and the fallen of 9/11,” said Todd Houston, a firefighter and president of the Lexington chapter of the Fraternal Order of Firefighters.

According to Houston, this is the fifth annual memorial stair climb organized by FOF, but the first to be held on 9/11 and the first held at Kroger Field.

“18 years ago we promised to never forget,” Houston said. “That’s why we do this every year and that was to remember folks that died the day of. Now on top of that, we’re hearing about at least 200 FDNY and 23 or more NYPD police officers that have passed away from cancers and illnesses from the effects of the day. So it hasn’t stopped and it’s not going to stop for a very long time.”

Houston said 237 people pre-registered for this year’s climb, the largest so far. Fire department employee Beth Burdine said they ran out of waivers and handed out all 400 shirts as additional people arrived.

“I think one thing it says is how important it is to the community,” said Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton of the high turnout. “Not only do they have a lot of first responders here, they have a lot of community members, people who are just ordinary everyday citizens who are doing this out of solidarity with the first responders and that’s pretty awesome.”

In attendance was Kristen Kuveikis. Her father, Thomas J. Kuveikis, was a firefighter in Squad 252 who died on 9/11 responding to a mayday call.

“You’d think after all these years people would start to forget but you can tell today, no one forgets,” Kuveikis said.

Kuveikis completed both laps of the stair climb in honor of her father.

“The first round it was just because I have to do it cause I’m doing it for my dad and the second round I talked to my dad the whole time, telling him ‘help me get through this’. And it’s for him, the last step, I was like ‘that’s for you, Dad.’”