ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The first two minutes weren't bad. Wes Tibbetts, an athlete and Anchorage firefighter, knew he was in good shape and up for just about any physical challenges. But eight minutes later, his lungs started hurting.
He participated in the Annual Firefighter Step Mill Challenge before, but that did not make it any easier this year. His firefighter gear – turnouts, air packs, helmets and boots – increased his weight to over 250 pounds.
The Firefighter Step Mill Challenge is an annual event, where people honor the victims, who died during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. For 11 minutes, people pushed themselves on a stair climber to see if they could get to all 110 floors – the height of the World Trade Center.
Tibbetts started to slowdown with only one minute to go.
His firefighter cousin, Luke Duffy, jumped beside him to encourage him.
Finally, 11 minutes later, Tibbetts jumped off his machine and tore off his gear. Duffy handed him a bottle water. The final result? He'd reached 104 flights.
Neither Tibbetts nor Duffy were firefighters on that tragic day, 16 years ago. At the time, Duffy was a student teacher. And Tibbetts was on a plane heading to New York from Italy, when the first plane hit. He said his pilot made an announced about terrorist activity in the northeast, but said little else as they turned back around for Europe. Five days later, Tibbetts finally made it to New York.
"I wasn't a firefighter at the time. I had ideas that maybe that's what I wanted to do, and I had not actually actively pursued it," said Tibbetts. "But when we were aloud back in the country after 9-11, we were able to fly to New York City (and) I was able to go down to Ground Zero – this was on probably the 15th of September – and walk around, (and) kind of see what was going on. It was one of those events that kind of stuck with me, inspired me, and definitely moved me, and probably ultimately drove me to the profession."
The money raised during the event goes to the Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial.
Duffy said he thought about the firefighters who died, and their sacrifices, to keep pushing himself.
"When it was really getting tough, I was like, 'This isn't tough. I've been through this 11-minutes before on the step mill,'" Duffy said. "It feels uncomfortable, but there's people who have been through way worse than me, especially the 9/11. I can't even fathom what those people went through."
In order to show your support, by donating to the Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial, visit alaskafirememorial.com/donate.