NEW YORK CITY - The annual New York City Memorial Stair Climb hosts more than 400 first responders as they climb the 80 floors of 3 World Trade Center in memory of the 343 firefighters, 37 Port Authority police, and 23 NYPD members killed on 9/11. Also remembered in the climb are the hundreds of first responders who tragically continue to die from 9/11-related illnesses.
While all participants climb in full gear, the most important item they carry to the top is an honor tag with the name of a 9/11 first responder who was killed on that day or died afterward due to illness.
The primary focus of the New York City Memorial Stair Climb is to honor and memorialize the 9/11 first responders. Each year climb organizers choose a 9/11-related beneficiary and mount a fundraising campaign for that organization. Climbers are not required but are always encouraged to fundraise. Since 2015, the climb has raised more than $250,000 for a variety of organizations benefitting firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and military personnel affected by 9/11.
For the past three years, Army veteran and retired FDNY Ladder 43 Lt. Ken Carroll of Mahopac was the oldest firefighter to participate in the Stair Climb. Carroll, 73, is retired from Ladder 43 in Spanish Harlem. This year, he climbed in memory of FDNY Lt. Ray Murphy of Manhattan’s Ladder 16, whose picture Carroll carried around his neck while making the climb.
“I kissed every picture in the stairwell while going up. It was both physically and emotionally draining,” Carroll said.
Sean Murphy, Ray Murphy’s son, said the family was overwhelmed and honored by Carroll’s efforts.
“What Ken has done in honoring my father is outstanding,” Sean Murphy said. “My family is so honored that he chose to do the climb in my father’s memory this year.”
Sean, who was 14 when his dad died in 2001, went on to join the FDNY himself.
“My father loved his job and the members he worked with,” he said. “I saw, from a young age, just how special this job is, and that is why I joined the department.”
Mahopac residents may be familiar with Carroll, who teaches spinning classes at local gyms and has participated in numerous fitness-related activities, sometimes in memoriam for a firefighter, such as the Stair Climb, and fundraisers, such as the FDNY 343 Ride from Long Island to the Pentagon. He also participates in fundraisers for veterans, breast cancer and other worthy causes.
Carroll loves to ride his bicycle around town (traveling at least 6 miles per day), as well as use his spin classes for such goals as raising money for a service dog for a local wounded vet.
“They even named a dog for me,” Carroll said proudly.
Carroll’s training regimen starts about six weeks prior to the Stair Climb and includes climbing stairs while wearing 40 pounds of weighted vests and riding a bicycle while wearing heavy boots. In addition, Carroll takes 35- or 40-mile bicycle rides with other firefighters to stay tuned up.
In the upcoming 343 Ride, in which bicyclists, mainly members of the FDNY and their friends, ride 343 miles (symbolizing the 343 firefighters who died on 9/11) in a five-day trek from Montauk, N.Y., to Washington, D.C. They raise money for Building Homes for Heroes, an organization that constructs houses for military veterans.
“Each rider is expected to raise $650 by going around to different businesses to raise sponsorship funds,” Carroll explained.
What’s behind Carroll’s altruism?
“Passion. You have to have passion in order to do things like the Stair Climb,” he said. “ I do these things for my fellow FDNY firefighters because I want to ensure that we never forget.”
He uses motivational phrases in his spinning classes, as well as his own endeavors, such as “Go hard or go home” and “Remember in life to challenge your limits.”
When he turns 74 next month, the father of three plans to go skydiving, which he has been doing annually since he was 70.
“It’s not for everybody,” he said, “but you’re never really too old. Leave the fear!”