5 ways to commemorate 9/11 as a first responder

Honor the sacrifices and the legacy left by 9/11 responders by marking the anniversary with community service, education and self-care


It’s been 20 years since coordinated attacks killed 2,996 people and injured over 6,000 others at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001.

In the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, Americans experienced a sense of togetherness and community, pledging to “never forget” the bravery and sacrifice of the 412 firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and police officers who never made it home to their families.

We’re still learning about the devastating long-term consequences for those who responded and assisted in the recovery efforts, as an increasing number of 9/11 responders succumb to illnesses caused by exposure to the toxic debris left after the collapse of the Twin Towers.

Climbers fan out during the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lambeau Field.
Climbers fan out during the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lambeau Field. (Photo by Greg Friese)

For those in the emergency services, the day will always be one of poignant significance, inspiration and a part of the public safety legacy.

Here are 5 ways to commemorate 9/11, in the weeks and months leading up to the anniversary, and on the day itself.

1. Participate in a 9/11 memorial stair climb

Each year, in stadiums, office buildings, convention centers, amphitheaters and even casinos, thousands gather to climb the equivalent of 110 stories, the height of the World Trade Center towers.

Often, climbers are assigned a name to honor one of the fallen firefighters, police officers or EMS providers killed on 9/11. At the elevation of the 78th floor – the highest floor FDNY firefighters were confirmed to have reached – climbers ring a bell to remember the responder they are climbing for.

After completing the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb at Lambeau Field, Lt. Cody Johnson, public information officer, Green Bay Metro Fire Department, noted "ringing the bell (on the 78th floor) – that gets pretty emotional – and reminds me why I am doing this. It really hit home." He offers the following tips for stair climbers:

  • It's not a race.
  • Go slow and take breaks for rest, cooling and hydration.
  • Climb to any height you desire.
  • Switch the leg you step up or down with.
  • Turnout gear isn't required and can be used for part or all of the climb.

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2. Visit a 9/11 memorial

Monuments, memorials and tributes to the men and women who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, can be found across the country, many of which feature steel, artifacts and mementos salvaged from the collapsed Twin Towers. They offer serenity and peace to those who visit to pay their respects, and to honor America’s promise to never forget. With more 9/11 memorials being dedicated each year, there is likely one nearby.

Just last month, the seaside community of Nags Head, North Carolina, welcomed a 9/11 memorial created by international sculptor Hanna Jubran. The idea for the tribute came during one of his classes at East Carolina University, when he realized that his young students knew very little about the tragedy. "The class discussion really triggered in my mind that I need to commemorate that, I need to bring this out to the public," he said. The stainless steel and bronze sculpture titled, “Always Remember 9/11/2001,” now stands outside the Eures’ Ghost Fleet Gallery. 

In May 2019, a new addition to the Sept. 11 memorial at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan was unveiled. The 9/11 Memorial Glade, designed by the memorial’s original architects, Michael Arad and Peter Walker, honors first responders and recovery workers who are battling 9/11-related illness or who have succumbed to their illnesses.

The Glade features a path flanked by sloping stone structures inlaid with steel recovered from the trade center towers.

At the dedication ceremony, Freyda Markow, who volunteered at the site with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, wore photos of firefighters who died years after responding to the attacks around her neck. "For them, 9/11 was never over," Markow said. "It'll never be over."


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3. Immerse yourself in community service

Embrace the spirit of community togetherness that followed the tragedy in 2001 by engaging with the citizens in your community and looking for opportunities to extend your service:

Share your ideas by commenting below, and send a photo of your team’s community outreach to editor@ems1.com to inspire other agencies.


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4. Practice self-care

Above all else, focus on self-care. No matter how often first responders encounter death, how close they were to the fallen, or how much time has passed since the loss, death of a brother or sister first responder leaves an impact. Grief is a journey, and symptoms of depression and anxiety often accompany the anniversary of a tragedy. Plan in advance by organizing a wellness retreat or scheduling a group debrief for the crew. And, on what will likely be a difficult day, practice self-care. Ann Marie Farina, founder, The Code Green Campaign, suggests the following self-care steps:

  • Pause. Take a moment to acknowledge the significance of the day
  • Use healthy coping mechanisms. Avoid using drugs or alcohol
  • Reach out. Don't isolate yourself from friends, family or coworkers
  • Talk to somebody. A friend, a family member, a coworker, a chaplain or members of a support group
  • Write about the stress. Blogging or journaling can help you process your emotions
  • Take care of yourself. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat a healthy meal, get outside, exercise, enjoy a favorite hobby, whatever centers you

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5. Educate the next generation of first responders

It’s been 20 years since the attacks. The newest members of your team were mere children when the towers fell, and the rookies you’ll be riding with over the next few years weren’t even born yet. Before they can truly remember and honor the spirit of selfless service embodied by the EMTs, paramedics, firefighters and police officers who responded to the towers that day, they need to be educated about that sacrifice, and the legacy of first responders.


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This article, originally published September 11, 2019, has been updated.

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