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Firefighters take to new heights

 Ashli Barrett/Lacombe Globe

Local firefighters put their endurance and stamina to the test this past weekend, making the trek to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Western Canada in full firefighting gear.

Wearing 45 pounds of equipment, including SCBA packs, seven firefighters from Lacombe and another nine from Blackfalds made the ascent up the 1,204 steps of the Bow Building in Calgary on Sunday as part of the third annual Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge.

While making it to the top of the building is no easy feat, the Lacombe Fire Dept.’s Zach Walker, who has participated all three years alongside Eric Nicholas, said it has quickly become an event he looks forward to every year.

“We’ve been there since day one and we’ve just encouraged everyone else in the fire department to get involved and the turn out has been pretty good,” he said. “It’s an important event. It’s for a good cause, the Wellspring Foundation, and it’s good to keep in shape and tackle some achievements.”

Hosted by the Calgary Firefighters Benevolent Society, the event serves primarily as a fundraiser with 100 per cent of the proceeds going towards Wellspring Calgary, which provides support to firefighters and members of the community fighting cancer.

For Walker, the cause hits close to home, as cancer took the life of a friend, Brooke Malakoff, to whom he dedicates his climbs.

Achievements, aside from fundraising, come from the climb itself, with firefighters timed on how quickly they can make it up the Bow’s 55 floors. The fastest time recorded by a Lacombe firefighter came in the stairclimb’s first year with Nicholas Newbury setting a time of 14:44. Blackfalds Fire Dept.’s Zach Frantz has topped that time the last two years, posting times of 14:36 in 2016 and 14:09 this year. Cole Keiver was Lacombe’s fastest climber this year with a time of 15:14.

The biggest challenge, according to Walker, is dealing with the heat.

“One thing they don’t really prep you for is how hot it is in the staircase. It’s not really well ventilated so it gets quite warm when you’re going up in full bunker gear and SCBA,” he said. “It’s definitely a ‘holy’ moment when you reach the top.”

The event coincided with Volunteer Firefighter Awareness Week and Emergency Preparedness Week, which run May 1-6, and May 7-13, respectively.

It was originally inspired by Seattle’s Scott Firefighter Stairclimb which had been brought to the attention of the Calgary Fire Department by the sister of fallen firefighter Gord Paul. In its first year, 186 firefighters from across North America made the climb. That number rose to 296 last year and on Sunday, the event surpassed the 500 mark.

Overall, $339,737 has been raised through, but donations are still being accepted until May 31. Links to donate can be found on the Lacombe Fire Dept.’s Facebook page as well as through Wellspring’s stairclimb website.

—abarrett@postmedia.com



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