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One Step at a Time: Lebanon Firefighters Honor 9/11 Victims at NYC Stair Climb

  • Lebanon firefighters Troy Leatherman and Eric James stand for photos at the Lebanon Fire Department in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The firefighters recently competed in the New York City Memorial Stair Climb, an 82-flight endurance run up the Queens High Rise in honor of those killed on 9/11. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A picture of firefighter Gary Geidel, who lost his life on 9/11, adorns the back of Eric James shirt. Geidel is one of the firemen Troy Leatherman and Eric James run in honor of at the New York City Memorial Stair Climb. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon firefighters Troy Leatherman and Eric James stand for photos at the Lebanon Fire Department in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The firefighters recently competed in the New York City Memorial Stair Climb, an 82-flight endurance run up the Queens High Rise in honor of those killed on 9/11. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon firefighters Troy Leatherman and Eric James stand for photos at the Lebanon Fire Department in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. The firefighters recently competed in the New York City Memorial Stair Climb, an 82-flight endurance run up the Queens High Rise in honor of those killed on 9/11. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Lebanon — Each year, Troy Leatherman climbs a high rise for those who have fallen.

Leatherman, a firefighter for the Lebanon Fire Department, ran up all 82 flights of a Manhattan skyscraper on Sunday, part of the New York City Memorial Stair Climb to honor the 343 New York City Fire Department personnel killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

Leatherman, 46, has participated in each of the first four Memorial Stair Climbs, which benefit a select charity each year. This year’s benefactor was the Ray Pfiefer Foundation, a non profit devoted to assisting 9/11 first responders, firefighters and police who continue to experience medical needs stemming from the events of that day.

“I was living in Dublin, Ohio, at the time, and I was on my way into work when I heard about it,” said Leatherman, a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves who previously worked with the Hanover Fire Department. “I called in and said, ‘I’m not coming into work today.’ I couldn’t. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

Leatherman was joined for the first three stair climbs by Lebanon firefighter Eric James, who sat out this year with a calf injury. (James also became a father nine months ago and was unable to sufficiently train.)

The event drew 378 runners — firefighters from 12 countries, plus officers from the New York and Port Authority police departments. Toting full structural fire gear weighing approximately 60 pounds, Leatherman ran up the 82 flights in 25 minutes, 54 seconds. That placed him 43rd overall and 11th of 105 in the men’s 40-49 age group.

Leatherman has placed as high as 15th overall and James has been as high as fourth overall, although the memorial itself is much more of a motivator than pacing.

“There are some guys who are really into it, who do stair climbs and memorial stair climbs all over the place and get competitive,” said James, a Burlington native and 12th-year Lebanon fireman. “Some guys will calculate to see their average times per floor. For me and, I think, for a lot of the other guys there, it’s really about the brotherhood and to remember the victims. If someone is struggling on the stairs, throwing up or having trouble breathing, no one’s going past him until they know he’s OK.”

Exhaustion and dehydration were potential concerns on Sunday, when temperatures topped 100 degrees at street level. While it was cooler in the building, many of the runners had been stewing in a queue on the hot streets prior to running.

“My run was at 10 a.m., and it was probably already 80 to 90 degrees out by then,” Leatherman said. “I’ve never seen guys throwing up in the stairwell like I did this time.”

The day kicks off with a morning ceremony at Ground Zero, where bagpipes are played and each stair climb runner is given a small American flag in honor of an individual 9/11 firefighter victim to whom they’ve chosen to dedicate their race. Leatherman always runs for Ron Bucca, a fire marshal killed amid the chaos at the south tower.

“I met his son (also named Ron) while he was a student at Dartmouth about eight years ago,” Leatherman said. “We were on a number of committees and project teams together in Hanover.

“It’s all kind of sobering, because (event personnel) give you these flags to place in the lettering of the name for the victim you’re running for, which are all cut into granite panels at the memorial site.”

The building used for this year’s event, 3 World Trade Center, is a few floors higher than the neighboring tower climbed during the event’s first three installments. It’s also about double the height of the building used at Boston’s version of Fight For Air Climb, a national series of stair climbs to benefit the American Lung Association. Leatherman and James have also run that event several times each.

“New York is a lot more stairs, but by the time you’ve done 40 flights, you don’t really remember the other 40,” said James. “Once you’ve gone that far, the rest is a blur.”

Maybe so, but the view at top of 3 World Trade Center was remarkable, Leatherman said.

“It’s an unfinished floor right now, all concrete, and no walls,” he noted. “It was a 360-degree view of lower Manhattan, and you could see everywhere, into New Jersey and Connecticut. Not too many people ever get to see that view.”

A post-event reception at a function hall allowed Leatherman to mingle with participating firefighters from around the world, including brethren from New Zealand and Germany — the latter sporting full lederhosen and leather clogs often spotted at Oktoberfest.

Later, Leatherman visited FDNY’s Rescue 1 fire station and rendezvoused with senior firefighter Mike Geidel, whose brother, Gary Geidel, was also killed in the South Tower collapse. When James has run the New York City Memorial Stair Climb in the past, it’s been in honor of Gary.

“I was in the Air Force with (Gary Geidel’s) nephew, which was how I first met the family,” Leatherman said. “That’s really what the stair climb is about. It’s all about family and brotherhood.”

Plus, it’s quite a workout. Leatherman’s and James’ participation has the full support of Lebanon fire chief and emergency management director Chris Christopoulos, a 37-year fire service veteran who has noticed a marked uptick in physical fitness among department personnel.

“First and foremost, it’s important to keep these events going so that we don’t forget those who lost their lives on Sept. 11,” Christopoulos said. “It’s also quite a physical commitment. You can’t do it unless you’re in pretty good shape. Guys have been paying a lot more attention to fitness and nutrition over the last 10-12 years, which I think is great.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.