That's the number of firefighters killed in the deadliest first responder incident in the history of the United States.
Fifteen years ago Sunday.
Seventy-two law enforcement officers also were killed.
Two-thousand-nine-hundred-seventy-seven innocent people were killed that morning on a day that changed our world as we knew it. We won't give credence to the 19 terrorists who also died in their attacks on U.S. soil.
Sept. 11, 2001
Anyone of age will never forget that morning. Suicide attacks were used to target symbolic U.S. landmarks. Nineteen al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners departed from the U.S. east coast, bound for California.
Two of the planes were crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City. Within an hour and 42 minutes, both 110-story towers collapsed. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia, and a fourth plane was crashed into a field after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers. It never made it to its target in Washington, D.C.
Schools were locked down, and businesses closed across the U.S. Motorists stopped to listen to radio reports. Cell phone service increased exponentially as people tried to reach their loved ones. Lives were lost and Americans realized they were vulnerable.
But, resilient. United. Strong in pain, even 15 years later.
As the nightmare unfolded in New York, firefighters ran toward, when others who could, ran away from the scene.
On Sunday, area firefighters honored their career brothers and sisters lost that day. The exact number lost, 343, took part in what they admit is an emotional tribute.
MJFD Chief, Assistant Chief join their team in climb
Eleven Fire Department of Mt. Juliet firefighters took part in the 7th Annual Memorial Stair Climb Sunday at the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville.
Fire Chief Jamie Luffman, 52, carried an American flag detailed with the names of the 2,977 killed that day. Luffman also carried a cap from New York Fire Department's Engine One to represent beloved FDNY senior chaplain Father Mychal Judge.
"He was the first reported victim of the World Trade Center attack," explained Luffman.
Judge was killed while he offered aid and prayed for the injured and dead in the lobby of the World Trade Center North Tower. When the South Tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., debris went flying through the North Tower lobby, killing many inside, including Judge.
A New York City Police lieutenant found Judge's body. He and two fireman and two others carried his body out of the lobby. His body was laid before the alter of St. Peter's Catholic Church before taken to the medical examiner.
On Luffman's third annual climb, while this fire chief climbed 2,464 steps, he held with him a star from an American flag that few over the World Trade Center site, as well as a red bandana to honor citizen Welles Crowther, 24.
"He was a day trader in New York and is credited for saving at least a dozen lives during the attacks," Luffman said. "He worked on the 104th floor of the South Tower. He first called his mom to say he was OK. When he got to the 78th floor sky lobby he saw survivors waiting for help."
Crowther led them down 15 floors, even while carrying an injured woman on his back. He went back up to help some more. He wore a red bandana around his mouth and nose to keep out the smoke.
He never came back out, Luffman said quietly. Crowther's body was later found in the South Tower Lobby.
Luffman's been in fire service nearly 25 years.
'Darkest day, finest hour'
While the FDMJ contingent of walkers joined fellow firefighters they passed pictures of their fallen brothers and sisters posted along the stairwell walls.
"As I climbed I saw all the guys' and women's' faces and on that day they got up like all of us do around here as firefighters and went to work as usual," Luffman said. "They were going to work on a regular Tuesday like any other day. But it turned out to be a defining moment in the history of our country."
Luffman said that Tuesday was our "darkest day, but our finest hour."
"Tens of thousands of people were saved that day, it was the greatest rescue in the history of the United States," he said.
Along with Luffman and other FDMJ firefighters, Assistant Chief Shawn Donovan honored the fallen in the climb. He's also a lieutenant/paramedic at the Franklin Fire Department. He's been in fire service 15 years.
Though he climbed the stairs with FDMJ, he wore a FFD T-shirt to represent that company as well. Seven of the FDMJ group at one time or another reported to Donovan.
"I climbed for Lt. Dennis Mojica from FDNY Rescue 1," he said. "I have always climbed for him because I was assigned to Rescue 1 at FFD for many years. I always carry a rosary and 'challenge coins' from Franklin Fire Department and the FDMJ since I represent them."
He too was deeply moved during the grueling climb by the haunting faces of his fallen brothers and sisters.
"It makes you very aware that you are climbing and living your life for a brother who left us too soon," he said after the climb for which he trained months to condition.
He was just in his second year of fire service, 26 years old, on Sept. 11, 2001. He said he's glad people are still aware of the significance of that day, and said it's not remembered day to day as much as it should be. That's why the climb is so important to him.
He said these simple words, "Never forget."
Both say they will climb as long as they are able.
"I just can't imagine," Luffman said slowly. "It's hot, exhausting taking those steps like they did that day. And to think after that they had to fight the fire of their lives."
A fire and collapse that took their lives.
"We were able to walk away," Luffman said. "They didn't."
Writer Laurie Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.