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Sonoma County firefighters raising money for first responders at 9/11 stair climb

Three Sonoma County Fire District firefighters are gearing up to climb a skyscraper in San Francisco Saturday to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and raise money for first responders with post-traumatic stress injuries.

Two professional firefighters and one volunteer firefighter are participating in the 2021 National First Responders Fund stair climb at the former Bank of America building, said Mike Stornetta, director of Sonoma County Professional Firefighters Local 1401.

The 52-story skyscraper in the city’s Financial District is 779 feet tall.

Funds raised at the stair climb, which also is being held virtually this year, will go toward treatment and support programs for first responders living with post-traumatic stress. The annual event raised more than $175,000 in 2020 and hopes to raise $200,000 this time around, according to its website.

This is the fifth time that Sonoma County firefighter Dennis Rutkowski will complete the stair climb. A decade ago, in 2011, he participated in the event for the first time.

“I think it’s just a way to honor everybody who passed away on that day — whether they were a first responder or just a member of the public in that building.”

Rutkowski, who started as a volunteer firefighter in 1995 before being hired in 2000, plans to do the climb twice on Saturday to reach at least 100 floors.

“The World Trade Center was 110 stories,” he said. “I did a stair climb a few years back in Kansas City. Their building was only 30-something stories, so we went up three times and then did the stairs in the lobby to get 110.”

The 26-year veteran firefighter also plans to complete the climb in his turnout gear.

“I’ve always done it with the structural firefighter gear ― the turnout gear ― on and usually I wear an air pack on my back for the weight,” he said. “The last year I did it, they didn’t have the air packs available. This year, you either have to be on air or wearing a mask the whole time. I’ve kind of been trying both just to see what works best.”

Registration remains open for the event at nfrf.org/stairclimb. Those who register for the stair climb must provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test between 48 and 72 hours before the event.

Those who wish to participate virtually can either climb 1,197 stairs, do 600 step-ups, walk 3.75 miles, run 2-mile hill sprints, swim 1,200 meters or cycle 20 miles.

For more information, visit nfrf.org. To donate to the firefighters’ stair climb team, visit bit.ly/2Vo3mDH.

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