PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WMBB) — This year marks 20 years since the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In Panama City Beach, it also marks the end of a decade-long event that honored the lives lost on that day.
Panama City Beach Fire Rescue Administrative Chief Terry Parris organized the first Panama City Beach 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
10 years later, Chief Parris said it felt like the 20th anniversary was the right time to hold the last one. The final Panama City Beach 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb was held on Saturday, August 28.
During the event each year, participants climbed 110 flights of stairs, which is the same height of the World Trade Center towers.
“Each person climbing would get an honor tag, clip it on them and climb in honor of that person,” Parris said. “So the symbolism is we climb for that person and we finish the climb. At the end of the climb, they ring a bell and say that person’s name.”
Chief Parris was in his 10th year as a firefighter when the attacks happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I think I was like most — you’re in shock. Then the anger sets in,” he said. “Nearly 3,000 innocent lives were lost that day. It’s hard to fathom that.”
Parris said he will never forget how the nation rallied together the days after the attacks. He believes the stair climb provided a glimpse into that feeling.
Over the last decade, first responders from near and far have come to the Panhandle just to participate.
“We never forget this day,” said Ian Murray, a Gulfport firefighter and 2020 participant. “These guys that are out here, these men and women with the police, fire and EMS, this is kind of like our day to remember what we do.”
For Chief Parris, the annual event also created lifelong bonds with people like Susan, who is the widow of a fallen firefighter.
“She checks in from time to time, we check in with her,” he said. “She bought a book and a little gift for my daughter — we’ve got a closeness now.”
Usually the event is held closer to Sept. 11, but in its final year it was held early. Parris and his family have been spending the week in New York City and planned to attend the 9/11 ceremony in lower Manhattan.
“I’m hoping when I’m in New York I can run into Susan and her family,” he said.
Over the last decade, the climb helped raise money for organizations supporting first responders. Now, even though the climb is ending, Parris said he will continue working with the Emerald Coast First Responders Association.
He said they are planning to hold fundraising events in the future.