Thanking first responders

A 9/11 stair climb participant high-fives a Thatcher fireman before making his next ascent in 2019.

Four years ago, when the University of Arizona said Thatcher Middle School teacher Leah Meehl couldn’t bring her students to their 9/11 stair climb event, she created her own event. This year, the entire community is invited to remember and participate.

The World Trade Center’s Twin Towers each had 110 floors and 2,071 steps. In honor of the first responders who made the climb on Sept. 11, 2001 during Al- Qaeda’s attacks, many communities host stair climb events.

With the the 20-year anniversary falling on a Saturday, Meehl hopes the whole community will participate in her event on Eastern Arizona College’s football bleachers.

The first year the art and physical education teacher just bussed her classes to EAC, but soon other classes and organizations asked to join in, Meehl said.

“Last year was super cool. Firefighters in full gear participated, and last year a lot of people did all the steps. First responders from all over the valley, the police department, fire department, they came,” she said. “Obviously it’s not a drop in the bucket to what the real thing was like, but it’s hot, and it’s hard, and you can’t help crying by the end of it.”

Each year Meehl’s class writes a report on the New York firemen who were at Ground Zero, she said. Pictures of the firemen are placed at the EAC bleachers for the climb, and the students search for the fireman they researched and wrote about. Although many of her students weren’t alive at the time the twin towers fell, the students show passion and patriotism, she said.

“We wanted the kids to feel some sort of connection in some way. This is what we chose,” she said.

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Meehl said she has already been contacted by multiple people who are getting ready to climb all 2,071 steps by training.

“Saturday morning, I think it’s going to be bigger than we prepared for,” she said. “I think people will want to contribute and be a part of it.”

Mike Naggy, a seven-year veteran of the Thatcher Fire Department, has participated in the climb since the beginning. Each year he wears his turnout gear, air mask and helmet and carries his ax through the climb.

“You try to put yourself in their shoes, you try to step into their boots and feel the way they felt. But they didn’t get to come home,” he said.

The effort Meehl puts into the climb is amazing, he said.

“The only thing I ask of the community is look at the photos of the firefighters and pay respect,” he said.

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