Firefighters reach heights in fight against cancer
Foothills strong Foothills contingent in stairclimb at Calgary's Bow building
Wednesday, May 04, 2016 09:13 am
Each step of the way, Foothills firefighters had friends and former colleagues on their minds as they climbed all 1,204 steps of the Bow Building in downtown Calgary Sunday.
Members of the Okotoks, Turner Valley, Longview, Foothills and High River departments participated in the Wellspring Calgary Firefighter Stairclimb Challenge on May 1.
Approximately 330 firefighters from across Western Canada took part, climbing 774 vertical feet in Calgary’s tallest building in support of the organization’s work to help cancer patients and survivors.
Turner Valley firefighter Willem Gersjes, one of four from the Town’s department, said he was walking in memory of former fire chief Allan Stickel, who was diagnosed with cancer.
“He’s definitely on my mind going up,” said Gersjes. “He’s there and definitely he’s with us today.”
Gersjes was joined on the stairclimb by Turner Valley firefighters Friedrich Conway, Trevor Doublet and the department’s stairclimb team captain Andrew Draper. The Turner Valley team donated $800 for Wellspring Calgary.
Draper said they wanted to show their support for fellow firefighters and to help in the fight against cancer. The disease is a serious workplace hazard for firefighters due to the conditions they so often have to work in.
“Cancer is a real problem for firefighters, it’s a job hazard so the more support we can show right now maybe that means more support down the road if you end up faced with such a test,” said Draper.
Wellspring Calgary is a cancer support centre offering day programs and support for cancer patients.
“It provides information, resources, programs, support and a community that helps people deal with the daily effects of cancer and its treatment through the mind and body and spirit,” said Suzan Valenta, Wellspring director of philanthropy.
The inaugural event last year raise $128,000 and as the first set of firefighters began their climb on Sunday morning this year’s tally reached $176,000 and counting.
Valenta said the fundraiser is a good way to raise awareness about how cancer affects firefighters.
It’s also a tough competition.
The top time from the inaugural event last year was posted by a Calgary firefighter for 11 minutes and 43 seconds.
Sunday’s event was Okotoks volunteer firefighter Ian McLeod’s seventh charity stairclimb, but he said few can compare to walking up the height of the Bow Building. It’s not just the height, said McLeod, it’s also the location of the staircase just inside the building with a glass window overlooking the city.
It’s a beautiful view, but it’s also hot with the sun shining in.
“That’s one of the biggest problems with the staircase is the heat builds up really quickly, you can see lots but unfortunately it means the sun is beating in on you,” he said.
They’re also wearing full turn-out gear of pants, jacket, helmet and an air tank on their back.
It took him over 18 minutes to complete the painful climb.
“The pain kind of sets in at the 10th floor and then it doesn’t really get any worse, but it doesn’t get any better. You just know you’re going to feel uncomfortable for 15 minutes,” he said.
It’s all worth it for a cause that is close to the heart of all firefighters, said McLeod.
McLeod’s full time job is as a firefighter for Horizon Emergency Services, working predominantly in the Fort McMurray area. The team from Horizon raised just over $30,000 for the event.
Okotoks firefighter Ryan Kaiser and Kevin Murray joined McLeod Sunday, but climbed separately. Kaiser and Murray raised $700 for the event,
Kaiser said climbing 1,200 stairs to the top of the Bow Building is a big challenge, particularly when no building in Okotoks comes close to the height of the tallest one in Calgary.
“Last year I was just over 28 minutes, so hopefully it’s going to be a little bit shorter this time,” he said. “There’s no buildings like this in Okotoks, but the nice thing is the south firehall has a stairwell we do our training in it. It helps us for this.”
Kaiser held the memory of two friends close. He was climbing the tower in memory of former Okotoks fire captains, Darcy Smith and Rich Beefus. Both died of cancer.
“I do it in memory of them, both of them were great firefighters, both of them are great friends and mentors and to climb the Bow for a few minutes of stress and discomfort is well worth it,” he said.