COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. — Hundreds of West Michigan fire fighters and their families, along with a few EMTs and police officers, gathered at Fifth Third Ballpark to honor the service men and women who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.
After listening to an emotional National Anthem and the audio from a New York television broadcast from the historic day, hundreds walked the steps of the Ballpark 4 times to simulate the 110 flights of stairs climbed by first responders on 9/11.
Trent Heaton, an Ada youth pastor who helped organize the 9th year of the annual event, was happy to see the solidarity on display on Saturday.
"I think especially in years like this where there is so much craziness going on in the world and chaos, it's awesome to see an event that is uniting a bunch of people," Heaton said.
Darenda Smith, a veteran who sang the emotional National Anthem, felt that unity too.
"It felt like one, that's all that matters to me," Smith said after choking up during the Anthem. "It's one body, one voice, once sound, and we're all together, and the national anthem is a big thing for us and the country, but it just felt like I was a part of everybody, and everybody was a part of me."
After completing the climb for his first time, Grand Rapids Township and Big Rapids firefighter Michael Livingston put himself in the shoes of those late servicemen and was amazed by the effort displayed by those first responders 19 years ago.
"I'm just trying to put my mind into the place that those guys must have been to finish all those stairs and know that when I get to the top, I'm done," Livingston said. "I can eat Krsipy Kreme donuts and go home. These guys get to the top of the stairs and then start doing work, so that's what I was feeling on the last push to the top of the hill. It's amazing."
As Livington alluded to, after completing the walk, firefighters and their families were treated to complimentary donuts and Gatorade while reflecting on that dark time in America's history.
This year's event helped raised quite a bit of money for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, who help to provide funds for the tangible needs of families who lose a firefighting loved one. Heaton was happy to know that the hundreds of Grand Rapids participants weren't the only ones helping out.
"This is a nationwide event, it's not just here, it's going on across the country," Heaton said. "But here in Grand Rapids, we've raised thousands of dollars in help."