CVFD climbs 110 stories in tribute to fallen firefighters

Local department struggles to find volunteers

Firefighter Devin Hice climbs the Fourth Street staircase in an event memorializing firefighters killed in the Sept. 11 attacks. (Sept. 11, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

On the morning of Sept. 11, members of the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department climbed the equivalent of 110 stories in a gesture memorializing the 343 firefighters who died in the World Trade Center attacks.

Participating firefighters and medics walked up and down the 82-step outdoor staircase connecting Adams Avenue to Fourth Street near Mt. Eccles Elementary School. It takes 27 trips up the staircase to equal climbing the 110 stories of the World Trade Center, department officials said. Some participants climbed in partial or full firefighting gear, which weighs up to 80 pounds.

Trips down the staircase were not counted, because the firefighters who died on 9/11 climbed the twin towers but did not come down, CVFD Fire Chief Mike Hicks said.

Hicks, who was both a firefighter and a police officer at the time of the 9/11, said he clearly remembers the uncertainty following the attacks, as law enforcement around Alaska scrambled to secure airports, oil pipeline infrastructure and other possible targets of terrorism. It’s important to continue commemorating the events of Sept. 11 for the benefit of younger people who didn’t live through them, Hicks said.

“Life goes on, but that doesn’t mean you don’t remember,” said Lisa Carroll, a lieutenant for the CVFD’s emergency medical services division. “9/12 was when America came together and supported each other, and we were there for each other… Cordova still has some of that spirit, but I hope that, with all the politics going on now, everybody remembers 9/12.”

Alysha Cypher, a CVFD medic who joined the department in 2020, said that the exercise gave her a new perspective on the events of 9/11. Cypher climbed the staircase in partial firefighting gear alongside her dog Iroe, who enthusiastically completed 15 climbs before the stairs’ grating began to chafe his paws.

“I definitely could feel it, and was thinking about how they had to just go up, up, up, up, up, and carry a lot more weight than I had on,” Cypher said. “It’s really tough. They were probably running on adrenaline, but that only gets you so far. It really puts it in perspective.”

As well as the physical and psychological strain of responding to fires and medical emergencies, CVFD members must contend with difficulties caused by low volunteer numbers. The department currently has about 20 volunteers, a number that should be closer to 40, Hicks said. Previously, the CVFD included as many as 50 volunteers.

“We need volunteers,” Hicks said. “We’re a select few people here, and we need more… When we get shorthanded, it puts a real load on the folks that are here.”

Cypher said that joining the department shortly after moving to Cordova gave her a good opportunity to participate in the community, especially at a time when public events were limited due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“As a new person in Cordova during a pandemic, it was the way I made friends,” Cypher said. “When I first went to a meeting I thought, ‘This is my crowd.’ ‘Cause we’re a little sarcastic and a little salty, but we care a lot.”

Anyone interested in volunteering can stop by the Cordova Fire Hall, located on Railroad Avenue, and speak to a staff member such as Fire Marshal Paul Trumblee, Hicks said. The CVFD also holds meetings Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., where informational material and tours of the fire hall are available to the public.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, firefighters have received upgraded equipment and improved training, but not everything has changed, Hicks said.

“We’ve gotten better equipment, but we still do the same job — if a building’s burning down, we go in,” Hicks said.