Firefighters prepare to climb the stairs at North Bethesda Market Saturday Credit: David Frey

They stretched their legs and checked their gear at the starting line—running shoes and shorts for some and firefighting jackets, helmets and air tanks for others.

“It’s not a race in my mind,” organizer T.J. Monahan said, preparing participants for what lay ahead Saturday in the North Bethesda Market East Tower. “It’s a methodical slog of a stair climb.”

Two thousand steps. One hundred and 10 stories. Four trips to the top, and then one more to the 10th floor of the tower, which at 25 stories is the tallest residential building in Montgomery County. For most, it was about an hour’s climb.

About 75 participants from around the Washington, D.C., area—some of them firefighters, some police officers, and some civilians—came out for the fourth 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb. A benefit for the International Association of Fire Fighters Charitable Foundation, the stair climb approximates the height of the 110-story World Trade Center to honor the firefighters and police who died there during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City.

A Montgomery County firefighter and retired Washington, D.C., police officer and U.S. marshal, Monahan first organized the event in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and has had held it every year since, except last year. It had been almost exclusively an event for police and firefighters until this year, when it was opened to civilians, including registration on active.com, a website usually reserved for events like marathons and 10k races. Participants paid $25 each to make the climb.

“I just wanted to do something in remembrance of Sept. 11th,” said Monahan, a North Bethesda resident. “My thoughts go back to that day.”

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Before the event began, volunteers handed participants name tags of firefighters who were killed on 9/11 so they could represent them on the climb.

“I think right now this country needs heroes and these are them,” said Jennifer Kaye of Rockville, climbing with her 8-year-old daughter Kaye, as she glanced at the first responders around her. “I think it’s important to remember those who give their lives and come to our aid when we need it.”

The Kayes were dressed for a weekend jog, but most of the crowd—police and firefighters from throughout Montgomery County and beyond—wore their gear to honor those who died on 9/11. For firefighters, that meant about 65 extra pounds, including insulated jackets and pants that trap body heat.

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“I cheat a little bit because normally I carry about 15 pounds of tools and accessories,” said Ty

Stottlemyer, a fire captain assigned to Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service’s Station 8 in Gaithersburg.

This was his third time taking part in this event. He wore the name tag of Brooklyn firefighter Capt. Martin Egan Jr. on his jacket, and additional name tags of others from past years he keeps on his helmet all the time. Heat from fires had melted the plastic tags together.

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“I think it’s a fitting tribute to these men,” he said. “Even though they’re dead, they’re still doing their jobs.”

Firefighter Jaymie Birney from county fire Station 33 in Potomac shed a few pounds of fire gear to carry his 4-month-old son Rory on his chest for the climb.

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“This is nothing,” said Birney, who has taken part in 21 similar stair climbs around the country. “It weighs less than what these guys are wearing.”

One day before his fifth birthday, building resident Wayne “Tripp” Williams donned kids’ firefighting gear and cut the starting line ribbon to launch the event, then made the climb himself, joining participants as they trudged across the polished lobby floor and into the concrete stairwell, where their footsteps and voices echoed.

“It’s gonna be a lot of stinky, sweaty bodies in that stairwell,” said Monahan, 63, who made the climb the previous day, as he does every year, to pay his own tribute.

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“How can I hold an event and not do it myself?” he asked.