The first recorded casualty of 9/11 was a 68-year-old Catholic priest named Mychal Judge, a longtime chaplain for the New York City Fire Department.
Judge rushed to the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, after learning of the terrorist attacks and followed firefighters into the North Tower to offer prayers and aid. He died when the South Tower collapsed and sent debris flying into the North Tower lobby.
One of the most well-known images of 9/11 is a photograph that shows five first responders carrying Judge’s body from the wreckage.
Eighteen years after Judge’s death, Santa Fe County firefighter Michael Judge walked up 110 flights of stairs in the second-tallest building in Denver at that city’s annual 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb — honoring the man with whom he shares a name.
Judge was one of 24 Santa Fe firefighters to participate in an event that is limited to 343 firefighters. The number represents the total of New York City Fire Department firefighters who died on 9/11. Each participant wears a badge representing a fallen firefighter.
Castle Rock, Colo., Fire Department chaplain Brad Noonan had worn the Rev. Mychal Judge’s badge in previous years, but when he saw Michael Judge’s name on the roster, he passed on the honor.
“This year [Noonan] saw my name, came to find me and said, ‘You need to do this,’ ” Michael Judge said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I was bowled over at the opportunity.”
This was Judge’s third year taking part in the event, which benefits the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He had known about the Rev. Judge, but he never thought he would have the chance to carry his badge.
When Noonan handed over the badge, he spoke to Judge about what the chaplain meant to him.
“He talked to me about what Father Judge was about, what he believed in. He was always right there with his guys offering support,” said Judge, 38. “It was cool to hear from someone who tries to model himself in the way Father Judge represented the New York City firefighters.”
Judge and the rest of the participants Wednesday ascended the 55 stories of the 1801 California St. tower twice while wearing full gear that weighed as much as 85 pounds. The 110 total stories represent the height of the World Trade Center towers.
“You really feel the heat and feel the weight climbing the stairwell,” Judge said. “You can really put yourself in that moment, to feel the stress these guys must have been going through climbing 110 stories. It’s a really immersive experience.”