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Firefighters honor fallen peers by running stairs

York resident Zach Dover climbs the stairs at high-rises in Charlotte for work all the time.

Sunday morning, it was personal.

He and his fellow firefighters often run flights stairs for practice and to stay in shape, but this climb wasn't part of his training.

Dover was one of more than 400 men and women to run 110 stories at the Duke Energy building in their full gear - boots, helmets, air packs, axes and those heavy fire-retardant coats - to honor and remember the first-responders to the World Trade Center who lost their lives 10 years ago on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It was an awesome climb," Dover said. "The big thing for me was just honoring the guys who died. Their names we wore around our necks, making sure we got to the top for them, although they never got to come back down.

"It was tough, and we had to push each other. But that's what firefighters do."

He wore the name "Michael J. Otten," a New York firefighter from Ladder Company 35. Otten, who left behind a wife and three young boys, died in the south tower of the World Trade Center. A third-generation firefighter, Otten worked 16 years for the department.

Across the nation, dozens of stair climbs, planned by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation as fundraisers and tributes to those who died, were held. In Charlotte, agencies from both Carolinas participated. The climb remembers the 343 firefighters, 60 police officers and 8 paramedics who died after charging up the stairs in the World Trade Center buildings.

"Today we remember not only the tragedy of these events, we also remember the heroism of individuals," said Charlotte firefighter Tom Brewer before the climb. "With each step, we remember what they did that day. With each step, we remember their families. With each step, we honor their sacrifice."

Nine Rock Hill firefighters joined in the climb up the 48-story Duke tower. To make 110 stories total, the climbers hiked up the Duke building twice, plus part of a third time. The firefighters ran in staggered groups.

Josh Honeycutt was one of them. He was in eighth grade a decade ago, but he said he knew even then he wanted to be a firefighter.

"It's a little emotional to stand among all the firefighters out here," he said from the plaza outside the Duke Energy building adjacent to the fire truck-lined Tryon Street. A giant American flag flew from a ladder truck of the plaza, jam-packed with first-responders in uniform.

"I'm here to honor the guys who passed away on 9/11. To honor their lives and what they did, rushing into a building without regard for their own lives to save the lives of those inside the burning towers."

Chester resident Ben Grant, who has worked for the Rock Hill Fire Department for four years, said it moves him to participate in such an event.

"We're doing this in memory of the firefighters and all those who lost their lives that day," Grant said. "It hits home when you think about so many men and women, doing the same thing I do, got killed.

"Any day I go into work, I think it might be the last day I see my family."

Sept. 11 has another special meaning to Dover; it's his birthday.

"It means a lot to remember these guys," Dover said. "They assigned me air pack 343. It just makes me think. Remember."

He turned 16 in 2001 and remembers walking between classes and hearing people talking about attacks.

"I didn't know what was going on," he said. "Then, I remember spending the whole day glued to the TV watching the coverage. Watching the destruction."

Dover's grandfather started Hickory Grove Fire Department, and he recalls wanting to be a firefighter since he was a little boy when his family would follow fire trucks to calls.

As soon as the York Comprehensive High graduate was old enough, he started volunteering for the York Fire Department.

He obtained his EMT certification and worked as a dispatcher for 911 for a couple of years. But he said his dream was to be a firefighter in a big city, to be a part of all the action.

Dover works at Station 1 in Charlotte, just a few blocks from the Duke Energy building. He said he's even participated in some rescues - of animals - from burning buildings.

"I've never been happier. It's the best job in the world," Dover said.