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Hundreds honor 9/11 victims during memorial stair climb at Clipper Magazine Stadium

The 'Tribute in Light' rises skyward on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, September 11, 2019, in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)
September 23, 2023

An 18-year-old aspiring firefighter was one of hundreds of people to climb the equivalent of 110 stories on Sunday morning at Clipper Magazine Stadium.

“I always knew I wanted to do something,” said Haley Granruth, who planned to attend a Hand-In-Hand Fire Company cookout in Bird-in-Hand later that day to start her training process.

This year was the 22nd anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, where 343 New York City firefighters died. Across the country, memorial stair climbs are held each year to honor those who passed and raise funds for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

With 220 people pre-registered, the Lancaster climb was off to a great start, according to event coordinator Scott Yuill. It’s common for first responders to participate — five times up and down each of the stadium’s steps — but everyone was welcome to show up and pay the $40 fee to make the climb together.

Participants can also wear a badge representing each of the firefighters who died that day.

“It symbolically shows that firefighter completing the climb,” Yuill said.

Granruth heard about the climb from her co-worker at Lancaster Country Club, JoAnna Billings, 50, who’s a firefighter with Lincoln Fire Company in Ephrata Township.

A week ago, Billings started working at the club, and when her general manager found out she was participating in the stair climb, he decided to sponsor employees who wanted to attend. This year, it was his daughter, Granruth and three others.

Part of the reason Billings participates in the stair climb, having gone to Lancaster’s four times, is to remember what happened on 9/11 by hearing from people who have memories of it.

Billings watched the twin towers fall on TV from New Mexico, where she was getting a degree in fire science technology. Her family was left to worry about her uncle, who frequented the towers, as phone lines were down.

She remembers listening to radio traffic between the fire departments and command center, hearing when they lost connection.

“It was a moment I will never forget, to say the least,” Billings said. “When you are listening to a call, and you realize people just died.”

Billings’ uncle was sick and was not at the towers that day.

Thirteen years ago, Yuill, a former firefighter and current chaplain with East Petersburg Fire Company, founded the Lancaster climb. He knew a firefighter who died in the attack, meeting him at a training program in New York City.

“He was big into the military; he was a nurse; he was in the fire department,” Yuill said. “He was quite the guy, but you’d never know that by talking to him. He was the nicest guy, the most down-to-earth guy.”

When Yuill found out he died, he went to New York for his funeral and thought, “What can I do?” According to Yuill, it’s because of him that Lancaster has a climb every year.

“It’s a good event that allows firefighters to show their feelings,” he said. “Because everybody knows what goes on in a fire, and what can happen. And we’re just very fortunate it doesn’t happen often, but it does.”

Having turned 18-years-old over the summer, Granruth’s decision to become a firefighter stems from growing up in a family of firefighters, as well as memories of firefighters coming to her aid as a kid with epilepsy.

Billings says it’s her goal to recruit not only more firefighters but female firefighters. She’s a part of Triple F, Fierce Female Firefighters, which connects women worldwide.

“I talk to firefighters in Kenya and Australia. They’re all women, out there doing what we do,” she said. “And to see what they do across the country and across the world and have a sisterhood that is so deep and strong, it’s awesome.”


(c) 2023 LNP

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