Valley firefighters training for stair climb
January 29, 2013
It’s seems a bit like a cruel joke — training for a race up the stairs of a 69-floor building in a community where the tallest structures for miles around are grain silos.But a group of East Fork Fire & Paramedics Districts firefighters are finding a way to get it done in preparation for the 22nd annual Scott Firefighter Stair Climb in Seattle in March.The statistics of the event are nothing short of staggering. More than 1,550 firefighters from nearly 300 different fire departments will ascend the 1,311 steps of Seattle’s Columbia Center on March 10.Sent up at 10-second intervals, participants climb 788 feet vertically to the observation deck. In case that task weren’t daunting enough, each racer is decked out in full firefighting gear, including a self-contained breathing apparatus.For the last month and a half, the six-man local team has been going through weekly group-training sessions. While they did go travel up to Tahoe two weeks ago to climb the stairs at Harrah’s (Three trips to the top, plus 15 extra flights to reach 69), the majority of the sessions have been conducted at Hot Springs Mountain off of Stephanie Way in Minden.They climb a cumulative 750 feet — 38 short of the end goal — on their runs while carrying sand bags they fill at the site weighting approximately 35 pounds in their backpacks.“It’s one of those things, it’s tough to remember why you ever started doing something like this,” team captain Chad Sheldrew said with a laugh. “It sounded like a good idea at the time. “It’s funny when we try to tell people about what we’re going to do. I don’t think they necessarily understand all that is involved.“People get that you are running up a bunch of stairs. But you’re in full turn-outs, which is essentially like running in a sauna suit.”Not to mention handling the breathing apparatus.“It takes some extra work to get the regulator going,” team member Dave Norvell said. “It’s tricky.”Other team members include Troy Valenzuela, Mike Hackler, Matt Kruse and Nick Summers. A number of the firefighters have competed in a similar event at Reno’s Silver Legacy previously. That race, though, covers 36 flights of stairs.“Even doing that, there aren’t words for it,” Sheldrew said. “Anyone that asks, that’s all we can tell them. When you get to the top, it’s an indescribable feeling.”Hackler ventured an attempt at a description.“It takes years off your life,” he said.Members of the East Fork department had discussed competing in the Seattle event for several years, but finally committed to it this year.“It’s a challenge I think a lot of us have wanted to do, but we were always caught kind of lollygagging when the sign-ups came around,” Sheldrew said. “This year we were ready. The whole thing sold out in about 11 minutes.”Norvell said the sense of accomplishment is helping to drive the team’s training.“It stokes that competitive fire a bit,” he said. “It’s tough, but we enjoy working toward that goal.”Aside from presenting a daunting physical challenge, the base of the stair climb is rooted in a charity effort. All proceeds from the event go toward the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Along with their training, the East Fork team is trying to raise $2,500 as a group to donate toward the cause. Last year, the event raised $1.2 million to go toward blood cancer research and patient services. The team will continue to train on a weekly basis, plus daily individual work leading up to the race in March. “It’s been cold the last month or so,” Norvell said. “The first 10 minutes or so you feel it. But then you start to go numb a bit.”Anyone interested in donating to the team can visit firefighterstairclimb.org and click on the “donate” button. From there, they can search for the East Fork Fire team.