PHOTOS: Seacliff ceremony honors 9/11 first responders

A solemn ceremony took place on the stairs of Seacliff State Beach Saturday morning. Dozens of people showed up to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Dozens of firefighters, public safety workers and residents participated in a 9/11 ceremony at the Seacliff State Beach staircase Saturday morning – a solemn event that marked the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.

The ceremony, the only publicly announced one in Santa Cruz County, involved participants climbing the 153 stairs from the beach to the parking lot near Seacliff Drive in Aptos 13 times. The combined steps – approximately 2,000 – equate to 110 floors, the height of both the North at South Towers prior to their destruction – and the loss of 3,000 lives – as part of a combined terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

“The idea is to pay respect to the heroes that gave all,” said Steve Vratny, a retired firefighter with the Central Fire District of Santa Cruz County. “The first responders that died and gave their lives so others might live.”

The morning started with the raising of the American flag between two fire engines, its enormous span overlooking the Pacific Ocean below. As the flag was raised, bagpipes were played. After the hoisting of the flag, all of those that chose to participate gathered at the bottom of the stairs.

In addition to Vratny, who coordinated the event, Central Fire Chief John Walbridge and Captain Jason Wichelmann took turns honoring those who gave their lives. They noted not only those who died as a direct result of the attacks, but who were injured or killed by inhaling the toxic smoke that surrounded the site for weeks and months.

A moment of silence, set to coincide with a 30-second broadcast from Santa Cruz Regional 911 dispatch honoring the fallen, was briefly interrupted by an emergency call.

Following this, bagpiper Kasie Tablot led the group on their initial climb up the staircase. The ones who did the full 13 sets took well over an hour to complete it.