Greensboro, NC -- The city of Greensboro will honor local firefighter Christopher Gonzalez as part of its 3rd Annual Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday.
The event itself has been held since the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to remember the 343 firefighters and 72 police officers who were killed at the World Trade Center in New York.
"You can taste the steel. You could taste the debris. It was very hot. It was very hot, it was dry. It was an experience that something you don't forget," Gonzalez recalled.
And still 12 years later, the chaos and panic of lower-Manhattan on 9/11 haven't escaped the firefighter.
" It took everybody a second to realize what had happened because that plane that had just gone over us hit a building," he said.
Back then Gonzalez was 14 years old, standing in front of his high school - just blocks away from the World Trade Center.
"We were talking, we saw a plane come over us and maybe about 10 seconds later, after we started talking again, we heard a loud crash," he recalled. "It was just panic after that, because not only one plane, now its two planes what I remember next is seeing that building, just pieces of it falling apart."
As Gonzalez and everyone else ran away, he says, he saw firefighters and emergency crews courageously running to the burning buildings to help victims.
"It definitely motivated me to become a firefighter,' Gonzalez said.
And so, 7 years from that tragic September, he became one in Greensboro.
"I wanted to do something that mattered. Something important that helped out the community, helped out people," he said.
Gonzalez has been with the Greensboro Fire Department since September 2008.
That's when he moved to the Triad to be closer to his sister and brother-in-law who are also firefighters.
He says this time of year is always emotional for him when he remembers the attacks.
Gonzalez will be at the Greensboro Memorial Stair Climb on Saturday as a nation prepares to remember the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
Those who attend the event will be challenged to climb the Bellemeade Street Parking Deck nine times. That's the equivalent of 73 flights of stairs -- the highest floor New York City firefighters were able to reach on 9/11.
The city will also kick off its "Take The Stairs Instead Of the Elevator" campaign by unveiling a picture of Gonzalez.