Durham County

Watch how Durham’s first responders chose to honor 9/11 victims

Emergency responders climb stairs for the 9/11 Memorial Fitness Challenge

Several local emergency responders, including the Durham County Sheriff's Office and Durham Fire Department, participated in the 9/11 Memorial Fitness Challenge. The proceeds of the challenge to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
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Several local emergency responders, including the Durham County Sheriff's Office and Durham Fire Department, participated in the 9/11 Memorial Fitness Challenge. The proceeds of the challenge to the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.

You’d have to climb up and down the Durham County Courthouse’s 10 flights of stairs 11 times to equal the number of steps first responders took to reach those trapped on the top floors of the World Trade Center 16 years ago.

About 50 Durham County sheriff’s deputies and first responders did just that on Sunday and Monday to honor those lost in the 2001 terrorist attack.

The Sheriff’s Office’s “9/11 Fitness Memorial Challenge” raised roughly $1,500 for the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, a national nonprofit created by Congress to remember fallen firefighters and help their families.

Deputies working within “buddy-system” twosomes alternated carrying one another between courthouse floors. The pairs stopped on each floor to complete strenuous workouts such as pushups, variations of planking exercises and burpees.

Sheriff Mike Andrews said the event was the idea of David LaBarre, whom Andrews said has dedicated his work-life to “giving.”

LaBarre used to be Sgt. LaBarre.

He headed the sheriff's intelligence-gathering unit until an accident forced him to retire last summer after a 14-year career.

LaBarre was standing on a ladder working at loosening a limb when it fell, hitting LaBarre and knocking him off the ladder.

He landed on his head, face down in the rocks of a gravel driveway.

“To wake up to losing the ability to see, not knowing,” LaBarre remembers.

Three skull fractures beneath his face, two fractures of the back of his skull and resulting brain damage took away part of his peripheral vision forever.

“Not knowing if you'd be able to go back to work, the uncertainty of not knowing what your future holds,” he said. “I received so many things. My co-workers helped not just emotionally but financially. It’s nice to receive things.”

LaBarre said it feels even better to “give.”

He, his wife and their two young children learned in March it would not be possible for the sergeant to remain a deputy due to the extent of his injuries.

His promotions and over 3,000 hours in tactical, bomb squad and other training felt, in the moment, wasted, LaBarre said.

But, it wasn't. The Sheriff's Office rehired him and LaBarre is now director of planning and development – an administrator.

“Hes really taken on the challenge to see the need to help others,” Andrews said. “It has changed him.”

The 911 Challenge was LaBarre's first, large-scale planning duty in his new role.

LaBarre and Andrews both said it put into perspective what 911 first responders had to endure.

One challenge was to run up and down the flights of stairs 11 times. Durham County firefighter Billy Smith endured the challenge wearing full fire fighting gear and carrying and 75 pound plus sandbag.

The second challenge was more interactive. Carrying each other up stairs, deputies and a handful of citizens stopped on the second floor to do 30 plank tabs, on the third for air squats, on the fourth for an exercise called mountain climbers, 30 pushups on the fifth and on the next levels endured break dancers, face melters, burpees and the tossing of medicine balls.

“All I can say, is there are some really fit people out here,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said.

Participants gave $40 each to enter the challenge and receive a T-shirt. Gibbs designed the commemorative t-shirt.

LaBarre hopes the challenge will become an annual Sept. 11 charity event for the Sheriff’s Office.

Andrews said he vividly remembers that day 16 years ago, as his brother-in-law worked in the second tower.

The sheriff said his wife’s sister was on the phone with her husband, watching the live broadcast and urging him to leave the building at the exact moment the second plane struck. The telephone line went dead.

Not until 1 a.m. Sept. 12, 2001, did the Andrews family learn what had happened to their loved one.

“He was one of the lucky ones that survived,” Andrews said.

It is highly likely the Sheriff’s 911 Challenge will be back next year.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks

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