TAHLEQUAH, Oklahoma – Firefighters and others in this Northeastern Oklahoma city paid tribute to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by symbolically walking in their footsteps.

Paying their respects to first responders who died that day at the World Trade Center, the group undertakes the 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb by trekking nearly 110 stories at the local university's stadium. Their steps mark the equivalent of what the heroes climbed in the towers before they fell.

“We are gathered here today to honor the 2,977 victims that lost their lives on this day 21 years ago,” Tahlequah Fire Chief Casey Baker said. “The 2,753 lives lost at the World Trade Center, the 184 lives lost at the Pentagon, and the 40 passengers on Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.”

Two planes crashed into the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. The third struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane plummeted into a field in Pennsylvania after passengers intervened and tried to prevent it from hitting another site in the capital.

On that day, 343 firefighters, 70 law enforcement officers and nine EMS workers perished in the attacks. More than 3,000 died and more than 6,000 were injured as four planes were hijacked by terrorists.

“They went to work that day, not knowing it was their last. They died alongside their brothers and sisters that day, saving people they didn’t even know. Without their heroics, there would have been many more lives lost. We will never know all of the lives they helped save that day,” said Tahlequah Fire Chief Casey Baker.

Participants during Thursday’s event were able to stop, discard their equipment, or take a break from the nearly 2,000-step climb, while the Fire Department of New York didn't have that option. The firefighters trudged onward to save as many people as they could.

More than 500 firefighters ultimately died from working countless days, weeks, and months at Ground Zero, where their bodies absorbed deadly toxins.

“We also honor the over 7,000 service members that have died in the post-9/11 war zones,” Baker said.

The fire chief quotes from the Gospels every year when he speaks about the tragedy: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” from John 15:13.

“We will never forget. We will never forget Sept. 11, 2001. Thank you for being here and just remember while we’re walking, what we’re walking for,” Baker said.

Those who remember the attack can pinpoint exactly where they were and what they were doing when they saw or heard the news.

Tahlequah Firefighter and Police Officer Steffon Herd was 8 years old, and he said he didn’t understand what was going on or what really happened. He’s been participating in the stair climb for three years now.

“It’s an honor to be apart of something so special that holds a meaning beyond me,” Herd said.

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