Firefighters climb great heights for cancer

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Charity: Fire departments raise more than $333,000 for Wellspring Calgary

After climbing 775 vertical feet and 1,204 steps, local firefighters are pumped and ready to take on their annual challenge again next year.

The 2018 Firefighter Stairclimb saw XXXxxxxx firefighters run up the Bow Tower in downtown Calgary on April 29, outfitted in their firefighting gear, helmets, and oxygen tanks.

The gear adds about 50 pounds, said Turner Valley firefighter Willem Gersjes.

“Even though we don’t go up on air, the tanks are disconnected so we don’t have a mask on, but of course the extra weight does count,” said Gersjes.

The Firefighter Stairclimb has been running for four years. Climbers fundraise ahead of the event with all proceeds going to Wellspring Calgary, which provides support, resources and programs to those living with cancer and their loved ones, in honour of firefighters and community members afflicted with the disease.

This year’s climb has raised $333,329 to-date, and donations will continue to be taken online at calgarystairclimb.com.

Besides raising money for a good cause, Gersjes – who has participated in all four stairclimb events – said it’s also good for morale, bringing firefighters together from all over the place for some friendly competition in the name of a good cause.

“This year there was a group from San Antonio, Texas and there was one fire guy from Denmark, so that’s kind of cool that it gets a little bit more of an international character now,” said Gersjes.

Firefighters are naturally competitive, he said, which adds a little fun to the physically-demanding climb.

There is some internal competition at the Turner Valley Fire Department, he said. As the oldest member of the department, Gersjes said he likes to beat the younger guys.

Did he succeed this year?

“Oh yeah, you better believe it,” he said. “Of the four of us, I was number two, and that’s more than good enough for me.”

It’s a difficult climb with all the gear, he said, but there’s a sense of pride and accomplishment at the top of tower.

Brittany Ptolemy, who works with the Foothills Fire Department and Okotoks Fire Department, was the lone firefighter representing Okotoks this year after veteran climber Ryan Kaiser was injured earlier in April.

Though cool, rainy weather meant fewer spectators came out to the Bow Tower to take in the event, she said it’s better than when it’s too warm.

“The first year it was really hot, so that stairwell gets really hot with all your bunker gear on by the 55th floor,” said Ptolemy.

Even though there is competition among the firefighters, Ptolemy said her biggest challenge is to beat her own time from the previous year.

“I just like to improve on my own time,” she said. “I raised a bit more money than I did last year ($250), so that was my initial goal, to raise a bit more and bring more to the cause.”

Although it was her third year competing, Ptolemy was still nervous leading up the event. It takes a lot of conditioning to make the climb because the elevation levels change as firefighters near the top of the stairwell, she said.

Ptolemy was one of the few women involved in the climb. She’s also one of the few female firefighters – the only one in Okotoks among 40 full-time, part-time and volunteer members.

“There aren’t a lot of women, no, but hopefully every year we’ll see more and more,” said Ptolemy. “There’s not a lot of women in general in fire, so maybe that will change in the next few years, too.”

Sam Leak, with Foothills Fire Department, is another one of the few female firefighters in the province. She raised $550 for the climb this year, helping Foothills Fire Department earn its second-place spot for fundraising efforts. The team brought in a total of $14,570 ahead of April 29.

For Leak, the best part of participating in the climb is connecting with firefighting friends from around the province.

“There are people from all over Alberta in firefighting from small communities, so you see lots of people you know,” said Leak. “There’s definitely friends from your own department and other departments you’re always kind of competing against.

“It’s just a good community event and it supports something we can all stand behind in our line of work.”

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