Firefighters Humbled By 9/11 Memorial Climb

BISMARCK – Gypsy Fouts used a simple phrase to describe how she felt after climbing 19 flights of stairs at the state Capitol building six times Friday morning.

“It was humbling,” she said. “We were tired.”

Fouts and six of her fellow Dickinson firefighters made up the department’s team for the North Dakota 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb, a fundraiser for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

Firefighters from across North Dakota climbed the equivalent of 110 stories — the same as New York City firefighters did when responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

“You’re doing it and you’re thinking in your head about what the firemen on 9/11 did,” Dickinson firefighter Seth Olin said. “You think that they’re carrying their tools, their highrise packs — they had way more weight than you do. It’s going through your head the whole time.”

Olin received a last-minute $500 anonymous donation that helped the Dickinson Fire Department finish as the top fundraising team in the state with $1,420.

Carol Holman, a Watford City firefighter, raised the most individually with $790. Olin was second at $590 and Dickinson firefighter Jared Rhode, who received donations all the way from his father’s fire department in Gillett, Wis., was third in the state at $575.

Holman, 55, has been a member of four fire departments since 1995. The mortgage loan officer at First International Bank and Trust said her employer donated $500 toward her state-best fundraising total.

She wore her full gear for part of the climb but took it off about halfway through.

“I know my limits,” she said. “I wanted to finish. I didn’t want to let the people down. It was a pretty awesome experience.”

Holman said she was amazed at some of the younger firefighters who made the entire 110-story climb wearing their full personal protective gear and also carrying their heavy self-contained breathing apparatuses.

Rhode and fellow Dickinson firefighter Zach Hudjuk both finished the climb with their full gear.

“It really does bring to light what those firefighters went through to get up on those floors, carrying a lot more gear than we had today,” said Dickinson Fire Department Capt. Deb Barros, who participated in the climb.

Dickinson firefighter Robert Togni, who said he ditched his breathing gear about halfway to ensure he would finish the climb, called the men and women who made the fateful climb on 9/11 superheroes.

“We were like, ‘God, this is insane,’” Togni said. “Those guys had their tools. I don’t know how much adrenaline was in play, but it’s no easy feat.”

The firefighters climbed all 19 flights of stairs in the building and then rode elevators back to the ground level, where they started their climb over again. After doing that six times, they finished by climbing two additional flights of stairs.

Togni said it took the Dickinson team more than two hours to complete.

“The first couple of flights are always the hardest,” Olin added. “You get yourself psyched up for it, and after a while your legs get a little numb, but it gets a little easier toward the end.”

Holman said she and Oscar Knudtson, a 62-year-old captain with the McKenzie County Volunteer Fire Department, were the only two from their department to complete the climb this year.

She said next year, she plans to train harder and complete the entire climb wearing her full gear.

“I can’t imagine what those people experienced that day when we did what we did today,” she said. “It’s not anywhere near what they experienced. But it’s the best we can do.”