After making 18 trips up the six-story tower at Hancock College's Public Safety Training Complex in Lompoc on Saturday, cadets in Battalion 148 had covered the equivalent of the World Trade Center's 110 stories.
Each step of the way in full firefighting gear, they pushed through the exhaustion in the memory of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives 20 years ago during the Sept. 11 attacks, carrying the same equipment load as those firefighters would have been carrying that day.
"These cadets are looking at getting into the profession, so we are trying to expose them as much as possible to what that looks like," said Fire Academy Coordinator and retired Santa Maria Fire Chief Leonard Champion. "This is also an awareness of something in our history that was tragic."
The tower climb is a hallmark of the Fire Academy, usually held as a physical training opportunity prior to the beginning of classes. This year, however, cadets were invited to participate on the anniversary of Sept. 11.
After completing their 16th trip, with sweat and even tears on their faces, the 13 cadets rang a ceremonial bell at the top of the tower. The sense of accomplishment, Champion said, is the best part of the grueling exercise.
"I think that was part of this for the students, to say that they did it. Many of them were very, very young, maybe just born [on 9/11], so they voluntarily came out to experience this and see what it was like," he said.